The New York Rangers had a much different outlook entering their game against the Los Angeles Kings on Monday night. The news came days after the team opened their season with a loss to the Phoenix Coyotes.
Captain Ryan Callahan was rumored to be making his season debut against the Kings. Let's face it - the Rangers just aren't the same without Captain Cally. This game would prove it.
A spirited team effort and solid 28-save performance by Henrik Lundqvist led to a 3-1 Ranger road victory over the Los Angeles Kings. It was Alain Vigneault's first win as Ranger head coach.
The Rangers, playing their second of nine road games to start the season, had their best period of the young season with a strong team effort in the first period.
Callahan was back to doing what he does best - dictating the tempo, throwing the body, dominating with his tenacity. This would especially be important since the Rangers were down a forward due to a cut received by Taylor Pyatt. He would return in the second period, though, and have a strong two periods of play.
As has been the case throughout his career, Callahan's heartfelt play and presence was contagious. Brad Richards would be the benefactor offensively. In his second straight game on the top line with Derek Stepan and Rick Nash, Richards hit the twine on a rebound, a major accomplishment given the way Richards played during last year's playoffs.
But, as the second period began, Ranger fans had something to gasp about. A collision between Kings forward Anze Kopitar and Callahan resulted in the captain heading off the locker room. Though, he skated off on his own power, Callahan was obviously hurt. Nevertheless, what was characteristic of Ranger teams in the past wasn't the case as the second period continued. Usually an injury to such an important player would have killed any and all momentum and the team would have had extreme difficulty sticking with the game plan. This was not the case in the second period. The Rangers kept up their tenacious play and kept the pressure on Jonathan Quick and the Kings. This was especially the case with the 2nd and 3rd lines.
Part of that tough play included Aaron Asham's first fight of the season. Asham and head coach Alain Vigneault both know he is fighting for his career. The 35-year-old is one of the oldest players on the Rangers roster and with players like J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast, Asham's days may be numbered unless he can contribute. Asham's fight against LA King forward Kyle Clifford wasn't exactly a slugfest, but it's promising. So far, in two games this season, the Rangers are showing they are not afraid to drop the gloves. This is a team that's not looking to be pushed around this year.
Then, surprisingly, Richards scored his second of the game. Richards meant to pass the puck across to Derick Brassard, but the puck deflected past Quick, giving the Rangers a 2-0 lead. Nash would have his second assist of the game on Richards' goal. For Richards, a two-goal performance is a huge coup, even though the second goal was a lucky one. More nights like this and perhaps Ranger fans may come not to regret that his contract was not bought out via amnesty this past offseason.
LA followed up with their first tally of the game, as Jake Muzzin cut the Ranger lead in half with his first of the season - the result of a Ranger turnover. The Rangers ended the second period hanging on to a 2-1 lead and fans must have felt uneasy since no official word had yet been given on the condition of Ryan Callahan.
Then, as the team came out for the start of the third period, there he was. The Captain was all right and back on the bench awaiting his chance to get back on the ice.
Later in the third, after Benoit Pouliot received a tripping penalty, Jonathan Quick misplayed a puck shot down the ice on a defensive zone clearing attempt by Ryan McDonagh. The puck was shot down the right wing boards. Quick lost his goal stick and attempted to play the puck off a bounce using his blocker. Instead, the puck deflected off Quick's blocker and went into the net, giving McDonagh his first of the year and the Rangers' first shorthanded goal of the year. More importantly, the goal took the air out of the Kings and their fans and gave the Rangers the cushion they'd need to close it out.
A couple things to take away from this game - the Rangers showed tenacity blocking shots, but they also showed something that was definitely lacking last year. The team is definitely not afraid to get the puck on net. Players were moving without the puck, defensemen pinching at the right time (for the most part), and these things made it easier for the Rangers to keep the pressure on in the offensive zone. Last year, except for the odd shift, the Rangers might get one or two shots and then it was back to playing defense. This year, the defense is still there, but the team is indeed showing signs of a team that could potentially exhibit the offense fans have been craving for years. The question is how consistent will that offense be?
Monday night's game was the start of a busy week for the Rangers. On Tuesday night, they will head to San Jose to face the Sharks. On Thursday night, the Blueshirts will face the Anaheim Ducks. Then, on Saturday night, the team will be in St. Louis to face the Blues.