NEW YORK – One of the strongest elements of the Rangers’ game let them down Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, and because it did, they’ll be heading into the NHL Stadium Series at Yankee Stadium losers of two straight in regulation for the first time in nearly six weeks.
The Rangers’ power-play – lethal for most of the season – had a rare off-night. After scoring in eight of their previous ten games, on Thursday it put up just its fifth goose-egg since the holiday break, on three chances.
The Blues’ power-play — ranked second in the league — converted early in the third period when New Rochelle, NY native Kevin Shattenkirk blasted away from the point at 3:09, putting the puck through a screen and past Henrik Lundqvist (23 saves). That was all the help Jaroslav Halak (34 saves) needed to edge the Blues (34-11-5) past the Rangers, 2-1.
“The difference was, they won the special teams game – one goal,” lamented Lundqvist. “We talk about it so many times, if you win that special teams game you’re going to have a good chance of winning these games.”
“I don’t know if we should give credit to [the Blues’] penalty killing or if we didn’t execute,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault. “We didn’t establish our shot, for whatever reason. That’s the No. 1 element to do on the power play, and – I’ll watch the game again – I don’t know if they weren’t giving us the opportunity to get the shot through, or we weren’t taking that opportunity.”
“I think after a game like that, we worry more about ourselves,” said Rick Nash. “We have to make plays. We knew they were coming hard, we watched the pre-scout. We just didn’t make the plays when they were there.”
The Rangers (27-23-3) had a golden chance on the man-advantage with 7:29 left in the third period, after Barret Jackman cross-checked Mats Zuccarello in front of Halak. Nash, who earlier in the game scored his tenth goal in his last ten games, had the puck at the half-wall. But instead of unleashing a shot, he tried a cross-ice pass to Derek Stepan which didn’t connect.
“For the first time in a long time I felt like our power play let us down,” said Brad Richards, who saw nearly five minutes of ultimately-fruitless time on the power play. “We were making hope plays, and just not pounding the puck. If there’s any one thing you can say wasn’t on today, that was it.”
For the most part, the Rangers weren’t lamenting what they did wrong. They faced a hungry Blues team that got smoked by New Jersey, 7-1, on Tuesday night. They knew what they were up against – nothing came as a surprise.
“I don’t know if anybody shut anything down more than, we pretty much knew from the start of the game after what happened to them in New Jersey it was going to be a one-goal game,” Richards said. “There wasn’t much room out there.”
“We knew they’re a good defensive team, and after the game they had in New Jersey that they were going to be tight defensively,” said captain Ryan Callahan. “That’s usually how they play, so that’s what we expected.”
“We expected a tough challenge,” Lundqvist said. “We played really well. Five-on-five we did a great job, and we did all the things we talk about. It just came down to one play there. The good thing, we came out and played really strong. A lot of things we’ll take with us for the next couple of games.”
Lundqvist fell to 0-4-0 against the Blues all-time in five games played. They are the only NHL team he’s never beaten.
Defenseman Kevin Klein, acquired from the Predators on Wednesday for fellow defenseman Michael Del Zotto, made his Rangers debut, skating 15:46. In 24 shifts, he took one shot on goal, and blocked two shots.
“He did what I expected him to do,” Vigneault said. “He’s safe and dependable, and he’s good defensively.”
Klein joined the team Thursday morning, taking part in a lightly-attended optional morning skate. With the team taking Friday off, the first time he’ll skate in a full team practice will be Saturday at Yankee Stadium.
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