The good news for the New York Rangers after Saturday's 5-3 loss to the St. Louis Blues? At least the score was close enough in the final minute that the Rangers could pull the goalie for an extra attacker.
St. Louis had the bulk of the quality scoring changes in the first period, especially with the early goal from Alexander Steen. But, when the Rangers captain, Ryan Callahan, scored on the power play at the conclusion of the period, the Blueshirts seemed to find the confidence that has eluded them for the last several periods of hockey. There was hope. The game was tied at 1. Callahan's tally was not only his first of the season, it was also the Rangers first goal since Derek Dorsett scored at 8:22 of the third period in New York's 9-2 loss to San Jose on Tuesday night.
In the second period, the Rangers would apply good pressure in the offensive zone, complete with grinding and cycling in the corners. The team would certainly have more opportunities to score, having outshot the Blues 13-5 in the second. But, by the end of the period, the Rangers were down 4-2. Three of St. Louis's five shots made it past the Rangers' goalie Martin Biron, who started his first game of the season. The former Buffalo Sabre star has been a reliable backup for the Rangers since he was signed by the team in 2010. But, on Saturday, he allowed two soft goals - one to St. Louis captain David Backes, the other to Derek Roy - which put the Blues up 3-1. The Backes goal was the result of a turnover by Rangers center Derek Stepan in the offensive zone. The Roy goal was the result of a bad interference penalty taken by Justin Falk.
But, the Rangers kept pushing, kept working hard, and kept trying to find that confidence again. And, at least briefly, they found it. The constant forecheck that emerged after the Roy goal finally paid off. St. Louis botched clearing the zone. Rangers center Derick Brassard was able to sweep a decent shot on goal in the slot. St. Louis netminder Jaroslav Halak was able to make the save, but the Rangers' leading goal scorer, the surprising Brad Richards, got to the rebound and rifled a shot past Halak to bring New York within a goal.
But, roughly a minute and a half later, miscommunication between Rangers covering the defensive zone, led to the second goal of the game for Backes, off a great pass by T.J. Oshie.
In the third period, Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault replaced Biron with the team's usual starter, Henrik Lundqvist. The star goalie would prove to be the most effective Blueshirt in the 3rd period. Lundqvist looked more like Lundqvist, making the kind of saves he's used to making. And at first, it seems to pay off. The Rangers found themselves on the power play after the Blues' Derek Roy received a holding penalty. Once again, the Rangers got traffic in front and this time, some luck. Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, the NHL's active leader in consecutive games played, broke his stick during the penalty kill. The Rangers got the puck to the front of the net and after a healthy scrum, Callahan emerged with his second goal of the game, breathing new life into the Rangers' effort to get the game tied.
But, two penalties - one by Derick Brassard, the other by Derek Dorsett, helped to slowly turn the momentum all the way over to the Blues side. Six seconds after Dorsett entered the box due to carelessly high-sticking Brenden Morrow, the Blues capitalized on the power play. Vladimir Tarasenko took a shot from the blueline and buried the puck past Lundqvist to give the Blues the cushion they needed.
Then, St. Louis proceeded to take over the game. Constant pressure, constant shot attempts towards the net, and constantly winning battles along the boards led to the final horn. The Blues earned their way to a 4-0 record to begin their season - a first in the 47 years of their franchise.
The Rangers showed some pride in their play tonight. Yes, the result was the same and of course, it's a hard pill to swallow. But, here are some positives to take away from the game. First, Lundqvist was tested in the third, but 16 saves in that period - some of them challenging - should make every Ranger fan feel better about the King. Second, prior to Saturday's game, the Blues had allowed four goals in three games. Despite the loss, the Rangers scored three against a tough defense and a great goaltender in Halak. Two of those goals came from Ryan Callahan, which is even more important and not just because of the much needed infusion of confidence. There's no telling how long Rick Nash will be out due to his concussion. This team needs a lot more than one goal scorer - Brad Richards. By the way, kudos to Richards for his performance against the Blues. He scored his fourth of the year in this game and ended up with a total of eight shots on goal - a huge departure from the Brad Richards we saw last year on Broadway. One more thing, the Rangers power play scored twice on five power play opportunities. So far this season, the team seems to be much improved in the look and effectiveness with the man advantage.
But, the team still has to work on communication between players on the ice, breaking out of the defensive zone safely, and being aggressive in forechecking/backchecking without taking bad penalties. No doubt Justin Falk and Derek Dorsett were both guilty of taking bad penalties in this game. Also, so far this season, Rangers defenseman have been out of position on a number of players, which of course leads to lazy plays and penalties.
The Rangers have a few days to regroup and come back East. Their next game will be against Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals on Wednesday. Maybe Nash will be well enough to play that night. But, even if he's not, hopefully being back East and facing a rival like the Caps will instill upon each of these Rangers the kind of spark and heart they'll need to truly turn things around.
At least, they now have something to build off of.