If playing the Ducks was a yardstick for the revived Rangers, they're still several inches short. Even the return of captain Ryan Callahan, who missed seven games with a broken left thumb, wasn't enough to conquer the still mighty Ducks, who edged the Blueshirts, 2-1, and lead the NHL with 25 points.
No, the Blueshirts weren't roasted and embarrassed as they were in a 6-0 loss in Anaheim's home opener on Oct. 10, but two early mistakes that were cashed in were enough to end a three-game winning streak and a chance at a .500 record.
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Derick Brassard's clearing attempt into the slot ended up with Corey Perry lifting a rebound in the crease past Henrik Lundqvist at 2:29 of the first period, and at 9:09, Kyle Palmieri, after Brad Richards' turnover, beat Lundqvist with a shot off the crossbar.
"We were trying a lot of plays that weren't there in the beginning," defenseman Marc Staal said. "We were causing our own problems with turnovers and they made us pay. Once we straightened that out, and started playing a little more north-south, chipping pucks and getting it behind them. I thought we did a pretty good job the rest of the game with getting opportunities to score."
Up 2-1 in the third, the Ducks, who were wrapping up an eight-game road trip, came out with more purpose, and almost salted the game away when Dustin Penner hit the post with 11 minutes left. But the Rangers pressed, and backup goalie Frederik Andersen came up with three quality saves, two on Ryan McDonagh, before a penalty on Bryan Allen with 5:17 to play. Ryan Getzlaf hooked Derek Stepan with 3:26 to go and coach Alain Vigneault called a timeout, hoping to forge a tie. But the Rangers couldn't solve Andersen on the two power plays and Benoit Pouliot's high-sticking call eventually negated the advantage.
"In parts of the third, I thought we were all over them," said Callahan, who played 18:43 and had two shots and six hits. "We had a couple of chances that we need to bury."
The loss dropped the Rangers to 6-8. They are 1-5-0 against the Western Conference.
Callahan, who started at right wing with Brassard at center and Brian Boyle on the left side, received a warm ovation.
Vigneault hoped Callahan's presence five-on-five, on the power play and the penalty-kill would make a difference against the Ducks (12-3-1), who are 5-0-1 in their last six games. "He's an emotional player who plays big minutes and brings a physical dimension," Vigneault said. "He's not big, but he plays big."
Last season, Callahan had 16 goals and 31 points in 45 games and led the team in hits (154) and power-play goals (six).
The impact, at least on the scoreboard, came with 1:24 left in the second, when he earned an assist on a goal by Michael Del Zotto, who lifted a loose puck in the crease over the 6-4 Andersen (32 saves) to halve the lead. At the end of 40 minutes, the Rangers were ahead in shots 25-12.
After the Rangers scored five goals against Carolina on Saturday, Vigneault thought they needed better opportunities down the stretch.
"It was not the way we wanted to start," he said, "I like the way we battled in the second, but I thought we should've had more in the third. We need to get something from our back end, those guys need to be able to jump up in the play and get shots through. We had two defensemen [Staal and Dan Girardi] that didn't have shots on the net."