After going 5-7 in the month of October, the New York Rangers followed it up by going 9-6 in the month of November. They ended last month with an extremely satisfying 5-2 victory over the John Tortorella-led Vancouver Canucks.
On Monday night, the Rangers began their December action at home against a Winnipeg Jets tema that would skate without one of their top scorers. Evander Kane left Friday's Jets game against Philadelphia with what the team is calling a "lower body injury". Meanwhile, the Rangers would not have usual starter Henrik Lundqvist or defenseman John Moore in the lineup for the second straight game. Instead, for the first time since Lundqvist was injured earlier in the season, rookie Cam Talbot would get the start. So, it would seem like the Rangers would win this one.
But, Olli Jokinen and Ondrej Pavelec had other ideas. Jokinen's two goals and Pavelec's 35 saves led the Winnipeg Jets to a 5-2 victory over the New York Rangers at MSG. The Jets are now 13-12-4 on the season.
It was bound to happen, but after eight career starts, Cam Talbot had finally yielded more than two goals in a game. The loss was his first since losing to the Philadelphia Flyers 2-1 in his first NHL appearance on October 24. The rookie backup had won six straight games. Talbot stopped 25 Winnipeg shots tonight, but it wasn't his fault for the loss.
With the loss, New York fell back to 14-14-0 and have yet to reach higher than one game over .500 this season. It is only the second game this season the Rangers have lost after scoring the first goal of the game.
Ranger goals would come from Mats Zuccarello and Ryan Callahan.
At 2:49 of the opening frame, Mats Zuccarello deflected a point shot by defenseman Ryan McDonagh past Winnipeg starter Ondrej Pavelec to give the Blueshirts the early edge.
Both teams played a spirited first period. The statmakers had the Jets outhitting the Rangers 14-6, but it certainly looked like the Rangers threw more hits than that. Still the effort from the Jets was disheartening to see after the Rangers showed so much heart against Vancouver on Saturday.
Winnipeg had a shot at tying the game when Derick Brassard was called for tripping Grant Clitsome at 11:21. But, the Rangers' penalty kill, now ranked 6th in the NHL, had no problem disappointed the Winnipeg faithful. Entering the game, the Rangers had allowed only two power play goals in the last 10 games.
Late in the first, Winnipeg's Anthony Peluso and Justin Falk dropped the gloves, and without a doubt, saying Peluso got the better of Falk is an understatement.
But, the Rangers would end the period on the power play, as Blake Wheeler was called for slashing. New York entered the contest with the 12th best power play in the league - a marked improvement when compared to the pre-season and the early games of the regular season.
(Sidenote: Why does every Al Trautwig intermission interview with Mats Zuccarello seem so awkward? Or is it just me?)
At the beginning of the second, towards the end of the power play, Talbot tried to play the puck out of the zone. But, the puck was intercepted. This started a early period flurry that included the puck hitting the crossbar and a number of great saves from Cam Talbot. But, they had only begun to fight.
At 3:37 of the second, Chris Krieder would be called for holding. But once again, between great goaltending by Talbot and strong defensive play on the kill by the Rangers, the Jets would not take off on the man advantage. Despite this, though, it was obvious Winnipeg was taking all of the momentum and the Rangers were making it easy for them to do so with mistakes and missed coverages in the neutral and defensive zones.
Later in the period, Devin Setoguchi took a pass from Olli Jokinen on the sideboards and rifled a wrister past Talbot to tie the game. The former Minnesota Wild and San Jose Sharks winger scored his seventh of the year.
Minutes later, a great defensive read by defenseman Dustin Byfuglien was followed by a sharp Byfuglien pass up the ice to John Albert. The rookie, playing in his first NHL game, would skate hard past the Ranger defense and smoke a shot past Talbot to give the Jets the lead. It was Albert's first NHL goal.
The Jets kept the pressure on, including a chance by the new heavyweight champ Anthony Peluso, who got past the Ranger defense and got in a good deke, but could not finish. It was only after this when the Blueshirts seem to settle down and tilt the ice back to the Jets end. The hard work would pay off.
Brad Richards, at a position nearly behind the goal line, shot the puck past Pavelec, who seemingly made the save. Defenseman Jacob Trouba tried to dive in front of the puck so the surrounding Rangers could shoot it in. But, captain Ryan Callahan, working hard against the Jets defense, would dive down to the ice and swat the puck into the net to tie the game. It was Cally's seventh of the season. Richards would pick up an assist, and much like his teammate McDonagh did earlier, he extended his point-scoring streak to four games. The other assist came from the offensively struggling Benoit Pouliot - his first point in the last 15 games. Another interesting thing about this goal: Pouliot did not start the game with Richards and Callahan on his line. he was on the fourth line with Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett. Head coach Alain Vigneault decided to move him up and it seemed to spark something in Pouliot's play. More than just the assist, Pouliot ratcheted up his energy and played much more effectively, especially against the boards.
Before the conclusion of the second period, the Rangers really seemed to find their legs and got some solid chances. This was especially true in the case of Rick Nash, who received two great scoring chances on Pavelec in the final three minutes of the second period.
At 7:11 into the final regulation period, the Jets' Mark Stuart must have thought Pouliot was a puck, as he used his stick to dump the Ranger forward into the net behind Pavelec. But, the Blueshirts were only able to generate two shots on the power play and could really get set up the way they needed to.
Then, the fans were treated to end to end action. After Winnipeg's Matt Halischuk swung and missed at a sure goal on a Frolik backhand pass (which caught Talbot by surprise), Derek Stepan was fed a pass that nearly put him a couple strides ahead of the Jets defensemen. Stepan was hauled down, but no penalty was called on the play.
After the TV timeout, Talbot had to make a great kick save to stop a Jets 2-on-1, then followed up with strong saves on the same Jets shift. Soon after, Krieder nearly broke down on the outright breakaway, but Tobias Enstrom caught up to him.
Then, at 12:42, after the puck bounce off a Winnipeg skate and off the side of the net, it found its way to former Ranger Olli Jokinen, who shot it past Talbot. The rookie netminder had gone seven starts without allowing more than two goals in a single game.
With less than two minutes left, the Jets clear the defensive zone and start a three-on-two. The result of the odd man rush would be Jokinen's second goal of the night and third point of the game. Jokinen now has six goals on the year.
A mad scramble in front of the net with just about a minute left produced a close call as a Stepan deflection hit the post.
But, about 10 seconds later, Blake Wheeler put the final nail in the coffin as he scored an empty net goal.
Vigneault went with Talbot instead of former Vezina winner Henrik Lundqvist, but don't blame Talbot for this loss. Any NHL goaltender would have had trouble with the goals scored on Talbot. Blame the inconsistent scoring and inconsistent defensive play by the Rangers. At times during this game, you'd see sharp plays by the Rangers. Other times, the breakdowns were monumental, as seen on Jokinen's second goal. Bad passes, neutral zone turnovers, and not getting the puck deep in your zone when you're looking to establish a boards battle against a young spry team will burn you. Give the Jets credit for a strong road game. But, the Rangers should have won this game. especially without the presence of the enigmatic - but talented and effective - Evander Kane.
They won't have to wait a long time to make up for tonight's lackluster effort. The Rangers' next game will be in Buffalo against the lowly Sabres on Thursday. That's followed by a nine-game homestand at Madison Square Garden.