After seven wins in a row, the New York Rangers finally suffered a loss this past week, and quite frankly, it probably happened in the best way imaginable, a no-doubt 4-0 shellacking by the Montreal Canadiens in which the Blueshirts were completely dominated. Not that a a 7-1-0 streak is anything to scoff about, but the Rangers were starting to get a little sloppy against the New York Islanders earlier in the week (which was noted by coach John Tortorella) and four days later, they got taught a very valuable lesson.
New York wasn't going undefeated the rest of the way, and were bound to lose one of these nights. The NHL is such a competitive league that you really do have to play solid, fundamental hockey consistently to win games. Against the Islanders, the Rangers got two leads, coughed them up, got a little too penalty-happy and needed their star center, Brad Richards, to come up big in the third period, in a game they ultimately won 4-2.
Against the Isles, they could take advantage of some inferior competition. But, Montreal was a different story: New York had six penalties to kill off, and could only stop four of them. They were careless on defense and Montreal easily took advantage of them because of their great team speed. On both ends of the ice, the Rangers were dominated, as they could only get 17 shots on net the entire game. It was one of their worst efforts of the season and very hard to watch. Despite this, the Blueshirts still have a very solid 10-4-3 record on the season ... but that is still only third in the division and sixth in the conference.
Part of it could be complacency, which is only normal. Part of it just could be regression to the mean. But part of this could be that once the Rangers play the Florida Panthers on Wednesday, they will have only played four games in 13 nights, with three days off in between their previous four games. Starting with Wednesday, though, the Rangers will begin a more regular schedule with four games in one week.
At Florida Panthers, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 7:30 p.m. EST, MSG
The Blueshirts begin their week on Thanksgiving Eve with a road match against the surprising Panthers, who, as of this posting, have the same amount of points, 23. After an offseason that saw general manger Dale Tallon add a number of pieces -- none of superstar quality -- Florida now leads the Southeast Division. The team is led by four of its free-agent acquisitions. Former Blackhawks winger Kris Versteeg is playing at an All-Star level with a team-leading 22 points and nine goals. The talented Tomas Fleischman is being given top-line minutes and is second on the team with 19 pionts and eight goals. Defenseman Brian Campbell has 18 points, after being dealt from the Blackhawks, as well. Goaltender Jose Theodore, formerly of the Minnesota Wild last season, is also enjoying a very solid year with seven wins, a 2.56 goals-against average and .923 save percentage. The team has not won more than two games in a row all season, but it enjoys a very respectable plus-8 goal differential.
At Washington Capitals, Friday, Nov. 25, 4 p.m. EST, MSG
As of this posting, the Capitals are reeling after starting the year 7-0-0. They are now 3-7-1 in their last ten games, with nobody seemingly taking the leadership reigns and righting this sinking ship. World Class center Nicklas Backstrom leads the way with 20 points, while Alex Ovechkin has an un-Ovechkinlike seven goals and 14 points thus far. From top to bottom, there probably isn't a team that's disappointed more than this squad because of the amount of skill it possesses. Tomas Vokoun has been extremely solid in spurts -- he has an 8-4-0 record, 2.61 GAA, .915 SV% -- but he's also been pretty bad at times, too, giving up four goals three times in five outings this month. Despite all of this, the Caps still have a plus-2 goal differential on the year. On home ice, this is the type of game that will either go two ways: Washington begins to find its form and the fans rally around them, or the fans continue to sour and chants of "Fire coach Bruce Boudreau!" fill the rink. The Rangers are comprised mainly of the same guys that lost to the Capitals in Round 1 of the playoffs last year, so don't think they won't play with a little more at skate this year, trying to prove their the team to be reckoned with.
Philadelphia Flyers, Saturday, Nov. 26, 7:30 p.m. EST, Versus/MSG
A marquee Saturday matchup against the Eastern Conference-leading (25 points as of this posting) Flyers. Philadelphia is tied for the league-lead with 71 goals and has a plus-13 goal differential on the year. This is a team that totally rebranded itself over the offseason, jettisoning captain Mike Richards to the Kings and assistant captain Jeff Carter to the Blue Jackets. This team is younger, and seemingly hungrier, but just as nasty as any Philadelphia team has been in recent years. The games between these two foes are never nice, always chippy and emotion-filled. The Rangers can compete with these guys but they cannot let the Flyers be the big bullies and dictate how it goes. The Flyers are led by Claude Giroux, who ranks third in the league with 26 points as he has 11 goals and 15 assists. As he goes, so does this team and up to this point the 23-year-old has been nearly unstoppable. Philadelphia also has former Ranger Jaromir Jagr, who is performing at a point-per-game pace as well. This is a team with scoring depth up and down the lineup and one with a goaltender in Ilya Bryzgalov who has been splendid over his last six starts, not allowing more than two goals in any of them. This has the makings to be one of the most fun games of the year for New York.
Next 5 Games
|@ Florida||Wed 11/23||7:30 PM EST|
|@ Washington||Fri 11/25||4:00 PM EST|
|Philadelphia||Sat 11/26||2:00 PM EST|
|Pittsburgh||Tue 11/29||7:30 PM EST|
|@ Carolina||Thu 12/01||7:00 PM EST|
Last 5 Games
|@ Montreal||Sat 11/19||L 0 - 4|
|@ New York Islanders||Tue 11/15||W 4 - 2|
|Carolina||Fri 11/11||W 5 - 1|
|@ Ottawa||Wed 11/09||W 3 - 2|
|Winnipeg||Sun 11/06||W 3 - 0|