NEW YORK – Coming into today’s game, the Rangers knew their attack inside the Blues zone would need to be precise. Not only had St. Louis given up only 18 goals in its’ first 11 games and started 8-1-2, but the Rangers hadn’t taken 30 shots on goal since a 43-shot outburst on October 29.
Neither mission was accomplished by the Rangers. Goals scored: Zero. Shots taken: 27. In their last four games before Sunday, they had 24, 23, 21, and 20 shots on goal.
That’s not to say the Rangers (7-6-1) haven’t been successful in their last five games, because their 3-2 record indicates a short-term string of success in these last nine days. But over the long haul, they’ll need more than 27 shots a game to put a challenge upon the rest of the playoff contenders in the Eastern Conference.
“Sometimes shots is misleading a bit. Sometimes you can have quality vs. quantity and vise-versa,” said center Brandon Dubinsky. “That’s not something we focus on too much. We focus on scoring chances and whether or not we’re getting them. Certainly tonight, I don’t think we got enough scoring chances to put ourselves in a position to win.”
“The past few games, we’ve struggled as far as putting shots on goal. We can’t look for something better,” noted Rangers coach John Tortorella. “You watch the league; everybody’s throwing bad-angle shots. Although tonight I don’t think we had a whole hell of a lot of opportunities to do that, we’ve looked for something better. I don’t think we can right now.”
But give the Blues credit. John Davidson’s team has started exceptionally well on the defensive side of the puck.
But the bigger picture wasn’t just what the Blues (9-1-2) did, it was what the Rangers didn’t do.
“It’s nice to score every night, but you’re not going to score every night. You have to make sure you’re doing everything else right. As a team, we just didn’t put in a solid enough 60 minutes to earn a win. We have to make sure we focus on that moving forward,” Dubinsky said. “It can’t be all about them. We didn’t work hard enough and win enough battles.”
“It wasn’t so much what they did it was what we didn’t do. They played hard, they roll those four lines, they’re physical, and they fore-check well. We just couldn’t get anything going,” said center Erik Christensen. “Just the little things. On our power-play, not shooting at the right time, or turning it over, not settling down. We just sort of panicked under all the pressure they were putting on it.”
“You have to give St. Louis [credit]. This is how they win,” Tortorella said. “They defended well. We’ve got to keep working at it. For us to develop offense, we have to win battles, we have to keep playing underneath those hash marks.”
Using his Youth
It’s all about winning, especially in New York. But Tortorella admitted before New York’s 2-0 loss to the Blues Sunday at MSG that he’s consciously trying to make sure his rookies and young veterans are getting the ice time they need to develop.
“[Todd White] probably should be in the lineup tonight,” he said. “In my mind, I’m still looking to develop youth in our team and our kids. That’s going to outweigh some of that. But I also need to see Grachev answer a little bit, here.
“I got Todd White at this age, and I got Grachev at this age,” Tortorella said while gesturing with both hands. “I want to give Grachev more of a look, but the catch here, you have to come through and be consistent. Grach has had some good shifts, but he has been inconsistent in terms of the things we want him to do.”
They’ve had solid efforts from other youngsters – even players thought of as young leaders. Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan have stepped up in the absence of Marian Gaborik and Chris Drury.
“Who knows where it all goes with a young player, but he has shown leadership this year, he has done everything we’ve asked of him and then some,” Tortorella said about Dubinsky before the game. “The big plus for Dubi is that his legs are always moving. That’s a key for his game.”
Even some of the young defensemen have been impressive lately. Tortorella specifically cited young Michael Sauer before the game, as well.
“Him and Emmy have given us a physical presence back there,” Torts said. “I like Sauer, I think it was Adam Mair comes in and sprays hank, and Mike – there’s no penalty, he doesn’t fight him, but he goes to him. Those are the things I like to see.”
Meanwhile, 20-year-old Derek Stepan hasn’t scored since his opening night hat trick. But Tortorella doesn’t think the young center needs time in Hartford to develop further – he thinks Stepan needs more time on the ice at the Garden.
“With Step, I think Step is in a different category. I think I can use him in different spots, I wanted to in the third period [of Friday night’s win at New Jersey],” Tortorella said. “I kick myself. I should have given him some power play time on the five-minute penalty (on Friday night). “That’s where I should have gotten him some ice time. I got him a couple of shifts after that, and he gets a scoring chance.”
After being boarded awkwardly into the backboards by Blues forward BJ Crombeen in the third period of Sunday’s game, Stepan, who initially laid on the ice for about two minutes, recovered enough during a TV timeout to become the first center used on the ensuing five-minute power play.
The Rangers continued their physical play Sunday night, registering a season-high 40 hits. Sean Avery, Brandon Prust, and Callahan each had a team-high six.
Alexander Steen scored both goals by St. Louis including an empty netter with 3.9 remaining in the third period.
Both teams went 0-for-4 on the power play.
Alexander Frolov had an apparent goal waived off with 1:56 left in the first period when referee Bill McCreary whistled the play dead on a high stick against the Blues. Replays seemed to indicate there was no infraction, and Tortorella indicated after the game he thought the goal should have counted.