The topsy-turvy world of the New York Rangers continued into the month of February. Despite the excitement of retiring Adam Graves’ #9 jersey on Tuesday night, the Rangers couldn’t channel that energy into a win over the 2nd worst team in the Eastern Conference – the 39-point Atlanta Thrashers. After 2 scoreless periods, the Thrashers took a 1-0 lead on Joe Mtozko’s 1st goal of the NHL season. The Thrashers and Goalie Kari Lehtonen withstood a barrage of Rangers shots – 40 total shots on goal – until Markus Nasland’s 16th goal of the season tied the game with just 21 seconds left in regulation. Neither team scored in OT, so we were off to a shootout. Rangers Goalie Henrik Lundqvist had been 7-1 in shootout contests during the season, but he allowed the 1st 2 Thrashers to score in the shootout. Lehtonen turned into the star of the night when he stopped shots by Nikolai Zherdev and Fredrik Sjostrom to lock down the improbable win for the Thrashers. Lehtonen saved 39 of 40 shots on goal during regulation, and then 2 of 3 during the shootout, to turn in his best performance of the season against one of the best team’s in the East.
The Rangers, on the other hand, continued to play inconsistent hockey and did not convert on numerous scoring chances. The Rangers missed out on a chance to add 2 more points to their total and still trail the New Jersey Devils by 4 points in the Atlantic Division race and the Montreal Canadiens by 1 point for the race for the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference.
The New York Rangers finished the month of January with a 6-6 record. Although the Rangers are still looking like one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference, if you ask the players, they would probably call their performance a bit of a disappointment with too much inconsistency. The Rangers lost to the Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins in close 1-goal games – the 2 top teams in the East. They also lost to the Montreal Canadiens and finished 1-2 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. On the other hand, the Rangers defeated the Blackhawks in Chicago and the Ducks at home – 2 of the better teams in the Western Conference.
The Rangers have 62 points, and currently sit in the 5th spot in the East. The Canadiens also have 62 points and the Philadelphia Flyers have 61 points, so it is definitely crowded at the top. The Rangers also trail the New Jersey Devils – 9-1 in their last 10 games – for the top spot in the Atlantic Division, so the race for the top spot in the division and at least a 3rd seed is not out of reach just yet.
The upcoming schedule is favorable for the Rangers. The Rangers take on Atlanta at home on Tuesday night. Then it’s on the road for games against the Dallas Stars and the Devils. After a quick pit-stop against the Capitals at home, the Rangers travel again to Florida to take on the Panthers. After another tough match-up at home against the Flyers, the Rangers play 7 consecutive games against teams with less points than the Rangers right now – St. Louis Blues, New York Islanders, Buffalo Sabres, Toronto Maple Leafs (home and home), Panthers and Colorado Avalanche. If the Rangers can swing a few victories against the Devils, Capitals and Flyers and then win 6 of the 7 games against the “beatable” teams, the Rangers could find themselves in great shape entering the month of March for the stretch run.
The Rangers will need to get great goal-tending from Henrik Lundqvist who has struggled of late – losing 3 of his last 4 starts. The Rangers will also rely heavily upon their 4 top point scorers – Nikolai Zherdev, Scott Gomez, Markus Naslund and Chris Drury – for consistent play on a nightly basis. If Brandon Dubinsky and Michal Rozsival can continue to step up their games with numerous assists, the Rangers could make a bold statement to the rest of the league. It’s all just sitting there for the Blue Shirts – now they just need to go and take it…
The New York Rangers fell to the Buffalo Sabres 2-1 in a shootout on Friday night. The Rangers took a 1-0 lead in the 1st period on Paul Mara’s 4th goal of the season. The Sabres tied the game in the 2nd period on Derek Roy’s 15th goal of the season. After a scoreless 3rd period and overtime, the 2 teams faced off in a shootout. The only goal during the shootout came on the first shot – by Sabres Ales Kotalik. Sabres goalie Ryan Miller saved 43 of 44 Rangers shots on goal including 2 key stops in the shootout (Markus Naslund’s shootout shot missed the net), and was the key reason the Sabres were able to come away with the victory. The Rangers have not fared well against good teams of late, and now their hold on the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference is dwindling – they lead the New Jersey Devils by 3 points and each of the Sabres and Hurricanes by 5 points.
Next up for the Rangers is Saturday night’s match-up against the Ottawa Senators – with only 32 points, the Senators are the 2nd-worst team in the Eastern Conference. Hopefully back-to-back games against the Senators and the Islanders (the worst team in the Eastern Conference) are just what the Rangers need to get back on track.
The Montreal Canadiens defeated the New York Rangers 6-3 at the Garden on Wednesday night, dropping the Rangers into 5th place in the Eastern Conference playoff race (they had been in 3rd place entering the night). Habs Center Robert Lang scored a hat trick in the 3rd period to pace the Canadiens to the 6-3 win. The game had been tied at 2 at the start of the 3rd period. Andrei Markov gave the Canadiens a 3-2 lead with his 6th goal of the season, and Lang’s first goal of the 3rd period increased the lead to 4-2. The Rangers pulled within 1 goal when Michal Rozsival knocked in his 7th goal of the season. But the Canadiens sealed the deal when Lang scored his 2nd and 3rd goals of the period (his 14th and 15th goals on the season), the last of which was an empty netter.
The loss put the Rangers into a 1st place tie in the Atlantic Division with 51 points with the Philadelphia Flyers. But because the Flyers have played 2 less games than the Rangers, they are considered the 1st place team from the division. The Rangers also fell 1 point behind the Canadiens with the loss, pushing the Rangers into 5th place in the Conference. The Rangers now set off on an important 5-game road trip, visiting Buffalo and Ottawa on back-to-back nights this Friday and Saturday. Next week, the Rangers play the Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum on Tuesday night and then travel to Chicago to face the upstart Blackhawks – the 4th best team in the Western Conference – on Friday night. Then it’s off to Pittsburgh to face the Sydney Crosby-led Penguins before returning home to the Garden. Let’s hope the Rangers can get off to a good start by winning at least 2 of the first 3 road games on the trip.