Steve Zipay is an award-winning journalist who has covered events from Super Bowls to World Series and issues
Turning back the clocks is an annual fall ritual.
So are the pumpkin-colored jerseys that the Rangers wear for Halloween practices. And, so it seems, is the seasonal tinkering with their power play.
The Rangers had a chance to put the Maple Leafs away on Friday, leading 1-0 and with three power-play opportunities in the second period. No dice. They have dropped to 4-for-28 and to 21st in the NHL, hence the modifications Saturday by coach Alain Vigneault.
Gone, at least for now, is any four-forward, one-defenseman unit. And in an unusual look on Saturday at the Madison Square Garden Training Center in Greenburgh, N.Y., the Rangers used two lefthanded defensemen (Ryan McDonagh and Keith Yandle) on the points on one unit, and two righties (Dan Boyle and Kevin Klein) on the other. Forward J.T. Miller was the odd man out.
Klein played one game on the power play, against Winnipeg on Oct. 13, without any success. The Blueshirts were 0-for-5 and allowed a shorthanded goal in a 4-1 loss.
"Our execution wasn't very good, and we're staying a little bit too long, for whatever reason, some guys were staying a minute-ten, a minute-twenty," Vigneault said. "Unless you've got full possession of the puck, I can see it; we didn't. [The Leafs] were throwing it back. If you're on the power play and working real hard, 40 seconds is a good number. That affects our execution."
Vigneault wants another look at Klein because "he's got one of our best shots in the back end, but we have to get up the ice also, and that's one of the areas I wanted to work on with different [penalty-kill] formations."
McDonagh thought that during the 5-on-4s, the Rangers "weren't very good at getting pucks off the wall. They kept us on the perimeter and down in the corners. On the entries, we'd rim it around and they'd get there before our guys could outnumber them."
Veteran Dan Boyle understands that power plays have peaks and valleys over a season, but admitted that the units "weren't very crisp" on Friday. "It's been heard for thousands of years, you've got to shoot the puck when you have the shot and we're probably taking some shots when we shouldn't, without a screen. We're probably guilty of doing a little of both.
"I think we had a power-play goal three games in a row -- it wasn't pretty -- but we were finding a way to put the puck in the net, and now we haven't looked all that good the last couple games."
Regarding last Saturday's coach's challenge at the Wells Fargo Center, Vigneault said he has "a better idea right now on when I should use it and when not." With 8:16 remaining in the second period and the score tied 2-2, Dominic Moore's backhander was stopped by Flyers goalie Steve Mason but Jarret Stoll batted the puck in on a scramble. The referee waved off the goal, citing goaltender interference. Vigneault challenged, and lost.
On Friday, 12 seconds into the third period against the Leafs, Matt Hunwick's shot in traffic slid past Henrik Lundqvist, but was waved off, noting interference by Joffrey Lupul. Toronto coach Mike Babcock challenged the call, and lost.
"I look at the goal that was disallowed for us in Philly and I look at that goal last night: They're following the rules to the letter," Vigneault said. "The blue paint belongs to the goaltender. In both those instances, you can argue that there was minimal interference, but they're following the rules. That's what the GMs want. I'm fine with it, I'm going to get used to it."
Vigneault did rue the fact that the challenge was only implemented this season. He said he would have challenged the call in Game 2 of the 2014 Stanley Cup Finals, when referee Dan O'Halloran allowed a goal on clear interference against Lundqvist by Dwight King to trim the Rangers lead to 4-3 at 1:58 of the third period. The outcome -- the Rangers lost 5-4 in double overtime -- would have been different.
"If that rule would have been in place at that time, we would have won that game; it would have changed the dynamics of that game," he said. The loss put the Rangers down 2-0 in the best-of-seven series. "We're still wondering if the referee thinks he made the right call."
Need more offense
Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan and Jesper Fast had just one point -- an assist from Fast on the final goal against Calgary in the 4-1 win last Sunday -- in the last two games, not enough production from the second line. Vigneault likes the pairing of Stepan and Kreider from the past and said: "I know they both like playing with Jesper, he reads the play well, gets in on the forecheck . . . Kreids is doing a little too much skating and not enough stopping and starting. I think [Friday] night, some of it had to do with Step, he's had a lot on his mind lately, he's just become a dad."
On Oct. 21, Stepan also had both a wisdom tooth extracted and two screws removed from the procedure used to fix a broken jaw sustained on a hit from Brandon Prust in the 2014 Eastern Conference Final against the Montreal Canadiens. He's had one assist in the four games since.
Asked how important it is to have Kreider and Nash (one goal each) score more goals, Vigneault said: "How important are the Mets starting pitchers? Same thing, we need our top guys."
Raanta has impressed
Backup goalie Antti Raanta, 2-0 with a 0.50 GAA, remains on course to play 20-to-25 games, and presumably will get a start in one of the back-to-backs in Colorado or Arizona next weekend.
"It took us a while this year to put him in play, but he's been very, very good," Vigneault said. "He was on the ice 25 minutes before practice today with Ben [goaltending coach Benoit Allaire]. I said before that in an ideal scenario, I'd like to use him 20-to-25 games, and that's what I still want to shoot for, especially with what he's shown us."