The New York Rangers are a lot like tires in the mud right now. They spin their wheels, but they get nowhere. They open up the season with two losses, but bounce back with an exciting OT win over Boston. They lose to Philadelphia, but follow that up with wins against Toronto and Philly. Just when they start to gain some momentum, they get shutout by the Penguins. Two nights later, the Rangers had their strongest performance of the season with a 3-2 win in Tampa Bay. But much like the swamplands that the New Jersey Devils used to call home, the Rangers find themselves stuck in the mud again.
Tonight was the first meeting between the Rangers and Devils since New Jersey eliminated the Blueshirts in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals last Spring. Adam Henrique was the last Devil to score against the Rangers, so it was fitting that he scored the Devils first goal against the Rangers in 2013 at the Prudential Center. Henrique’s tally came at the five-minute mark of the 1st period. David Clarkson potted his 6th goal of the season at 19:07 to make it 2-0. But the story of the 1st period was the Rangers anemic power play. Tripping penalties by Dainius Zubrus and Steve Bernier (at 1:28 and 7:33 respectively) led to nothing. An Andy Greene double minor for High Sticking Arron Asham also resulted in a goose egg for the Rangers.
There was no scoring or penalties in the 2nd period, but David Clarkson gave the Devils a 3-0 lead early in the 3rd on the power play. His 7th goal of the season was enough to send any Rangers fans who made the trip to Newark to the exits. The lone bright spot of the evening for the Rangers was Chris Kreider’s first goal of the season. He ended Marty Brodeur’s shutout bid at 6:28 of the 3rd period with a beautiful shot through a small window over the near-shoulder of the Devils netminder. Brodeur finished the night with 24 saves in a strong performance, and NJ winger Patrik Elias had 3 assists.
The Blueshirts are now nine games in to their schedule and sit at 4-5-0. For a team that many had lifting the Cup this summer, there’s a cause for concern, and it needs to be addressed. Has Henrik Lundqvist been his usual “lights-out” self? No – but he hasn’t played badly and he’s not the problem. The Rangers have also dealt with a rash of injuries that has prevented any sort of chemistry after the first line. But the main issue is their underachieving power play. The Blueshirts are a meager 3 for 30 on the season (1 for 16 on the road, 2 for 14 at Madison Square Garden). Considering the roster they have, it borders on inexcusable.
ESPN & NHL Network Analyst Barry Melrose said on NHL Live earlier in the week that that the toughest part about a shortened/condensed schedule is that you have no time to work on the power play with the limited practice time. It’s a very valid point, but 29 other NHL teams have to deal with the same issue (and only a handful of them return the same PP units from last season). If the Rangers want to go deep in the playoffs (or even make the playoffs), they need to find a way to kick the tires with the man advantage. Not everyone can be the 2011 Boston Bruins, who won the Stanley Cup that season despite having an 11.4% success rate on the Power Play.
Rangers Round Up
-Winger Chris Kreider returned to the line up tonight after dealing with an ankle injury
-Center JT Miller made his debut with the big club tonight. The 15th overall selection of the 2011 draft finished with 14:25 of ice time, two shots on goal, and saw some time on the power play
-Defenseman Dan Girardi sat out tonight’s game with an undisclosed injury. No word on whether or not he’ll play on Thursday against the Islanders
On a personal note, I will be heading down to Brazil for a few days for a much needed vacation. Be sure to check out the fine work of Kaitlin Sullivan as the Rangers take on the Islanders, Lightning, and Bruins over the next week.