The Rangers played fifty minutes of horrendous hockey tonight in Phoenix, but somehow turned things up a notch in the final ten to score two goals and give the Coyotes a run for their money late in the game. The near comeback should not disguise the fact that the Blueshirts put up yet another pathetic effort in which they were dominated for majority of the contest. At the midpoint, New York had just ten shots on goal, count ‘em, ten shots on goal and that right there was indicative of how poorly the offense has been playing.
I do not know what it is about this team, but they just cannot get off to a good start in a game. The Blueshirts were guilty of a penalty 3:40 into the first period and that took away any momentum they may have had going in. They killed it off successfully, but seconds later the Coyotes converted on a 2 on 1 when Shane Doan was able to sneak a wrister through the legs of goaltender Chad Johnson. Just 41 ticks later, the ‘Yotes offense tore up the Rangers defense with a tic-tac-toe play leading to Mikkel Boedker finishing a beautiful move to put Phoenix up 2-0. The fun wasn't over yet, as Sami Lepisto's slapper through traffic beat Johnson and the score was then 3-0.
The second stanza may have been the most boring this season. The Rangers were not moving their feet and as a result did nothing but take penalties. In fact, they went to the box a total of four times in that period, two of which were taken by Michal Rozsival, but thankfully the penalty-kill was superb, exterminating each and every one. Based on the careless play in that period, one would have been smart in predicting a Jason Labarbera shutout going into the third period. However, our boys surprised us.
The third began slowly much like the prior two periods, but once the clock read 10:00, things began to change. Marian Gaborik got things started for the Rangers, tapping in a dazzling pass by Erik Christensen on an odd-man rush. That tally would be Marian's 3oth of the season, erased a five-game goal drought, and put the Rangers on the board while on away ice for the first time since the game in St. Louis two weeks ago. Sean Avery followed that up by sending a wristshot past Labarbera two minutes later, and now the Blueshirts were on their way to staging a comeback. That is until Michal Rozsival went to the box for the third time in the game. No, it should not have been a penalty, but his stick was up and Prucha did a nice job of selling it, and although Gaborik batted one off the post, the Rangers would fall just short of the comeback.Chad Johnson seemed to have the jitters in the first period, but after allowing three unanswered goals, the rookie netminder stood tall for the visitors. Making 24 saves, Johnson basically kept the Rangers in it when they were playing with the common lackadaisical attitude that we are so used to seeing. Give him credit, because he did not find out he was starting until later today when Henrik Lundqvist determined that the flu was too much to handle, forcing him to take the night off. That is not an easy task as a rookie playing on the road, but he handled himself well out there.
The question now is if Henrik will be up to playing tomorrow when the Rangers are in Colorado to take on the Avalanche. The all-star goaltender was on the bench early in the game, but then disappeared, and my guess would be to the toilet where he allowed the bug to leave his system. It is very unlikely that he will be able to go Sunday night, because I had the exact virus last weekend and was knocked out the following day. I would count on Johnson making the back-to-back start.
Marian Gaborik was bound to break his scoreless streak at some point, and has been coming awfully close as of late. Finally that relieving goal came tonight and he almost added to that by batting a Prospal rebound off the iron. If he can get going it would be a major plus to the lacking offense that accomplish the simple task of netting more than two goals a night. Beyond Gaborik, I felt Artem Anisimov skated very well, as did Brandon Dubinsky, but again, still no finishing. There is no consistency here, and to prove it, Sean Avery's goal marked just the fourth game he has scored in this season.
The defense had many, I guess what you would call hiccups in this one. Michael Del Zotto was beat on the first two Coyote goals, and on the third, the defense bunched up in the slot, screening Johnson. And then there was the Petr Prucha opportunity where he was sitting all alone in front of the net, but somehow shot wide. Don't ask me how he missed that because my jaw pretty much hit the floor. That was nothing short of unbelievable.
Anyhow, the Blueshirts will try and avoid dropping six straight Sunday night when they are up in the mountains to clash with the Avalanche at the Pepsi Center. I cannot stress this enough; they cannot, I repeat, cannot afford to allow the Avs to take an early first period lead. Let's face it, the Rangers are not good at playing catch-up hockey, and that is all they have been doing during this losing skid. The Avalanche are a skilled up and coming squad and are not one to be taken lightly by any means. The Rangers will have their hands full tomorrow night.