Tonight marked the return of Derek Stepan from his rib injury which had sidelined him since November 27. Unfortunately for the Rangers, the addition of Stepan into the lineup failed to spark the team and they suffered their second loss in as many nights.
After falling to the Minnesota Wild 5-2 last night, the Rangers headed into Winnipeg looking to improve upon their bad habits of sloppy play. However, the Jets came out flying led by Bryan Little who scored twice in the first 7:34 of the game. Little, alongside Blake Wheeler and Andrew Ladd, skated circles around the Rangers and owned the puck all night.
New York continued to struggle with their defensive zone breakouts in the first period and they spent lots of time recovering from their own mistakes, often leaving Henrik Lundqvist out to dry. Nearing the end of the first period, the Rangers got some hope when JT Miller banged the puck in from the doorstep following a rebound chance and ensuing scramble which had Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck down and out. Kevin Hayes and Keith Yandle were credited with assists and it seemed as if the Rangers were going to enter the intermission only trailing by one.
Dustin Byfuglien said otherwise, blasting a shot from the point past Lundqvist and sending the teams to the locker room with the scoreboard reading 3-1 in favor of the home squad. It was not until 14:12 into the second period that another tally went on the board, this time for the Rangers off of their surging power play which entered the game as number six overall in the league.
Derick Brassard won an offensive zone draw back to Keith Yandle who fired it from the point. The shot was stopped, but the rebound careened right out to the circle where Dan Boyle was waiting. His quick shot found its way past a sprawling Hellebuyck and once again drew the Rangers to within one with the score 3-2.
However, the Jets were quick to return the favor and again it came from a defenseman. Tyler Myers found himself wide open in the dangerous high slot area off of a beautiful cross-ice pass from Blake Wheeler. Myers rifled the shot over Lundqvist's shoulder and restored the two goal lead which would remain deep into the third period. The Rangers' defensive zone coverage cost them a goal with their egregious error.
The Rangers could not find the extra gear to get back into the game in the final period. Winnipeg sealed the deal with an empty-net goal from Andrew Ladd assisted by Blake Wheeler, who had a 4-point night. Derek Stepan was a -2 with 2 shots and 18:47 minutes of ice time in his first game back.
The Rangers next game will be on Sunday, December 20 when they host the Metropolitan Division-leading Washington Capitals.