There were signs of life for the Rangers Saturday at Scottrade Center in St. Louis. But not in the win column.
Missing Rick Nash and using seven defensemen and 11 forwards, the Blueshirts (1-4) outplayed the undefeated (4-0) Blues for the first two periods, outshooting them 24-17, but still trailed 4-2 en route to a 5-3 loss in the finale of a rough five-game journey out West to open the season.
After a 9-2 rout by the Sharks and the 6-0 whitewash by the Ducks, “we were a different team tonight,” said Brad Richards, who had eight shots and scored his fourth goal of the season. “It was a tough result, we wanted a better one. But it was night and day compared to the last two games, how we battled. Second period, against a real good team, that plays well on home ice, we had the puck a lot and that’s more like our team. Best period we played all year.”
Best period offensively perhaps, but not for backup goalie Martin Biron, who should have stopped two of the three second-period goals (on five shots) in his first start of the year. He was replaced by Henrik Lundqvist at the start of the third and the usually loquacious Biron did not speak to reporters after the game.
The performance cannot have helped Biron, 36, who is in the final year of his contract during a season in which Vigneault “ideally” wants his backup to play about 20 times, win games and be fresh for the playoffs.
The Rangers brought former Devils backup Johan Hedberg in for a tryout at camp; Biron, in his fourth season with the club, held on. Hedberg, 40, remains unsigned, and would like to stay in the metropolitan area with his family. And the team has Cam Talbot in the AHL.
Asked if he was concerned about Biron’s play ---he also surrendered five goals on 21 shots against the Sharks---Vigneault did not provide a ringing endorsement. "I want to take a look at the tape," he said. "I thought for two periods we played well, our execution was better, we had some good scoring opportunities, we didn't give up much in the second but on three occasions, they were able to find the back of the net."
After 20 minutes the score was tied at 1. But David Backes beat Biron through the pads from the right circle at 5:11 of the second period for a 2-1 lead and Derek Roy, in the high slot, wristed a shot that eluded Biron at 12:44. Just 1:04 before Backes’ second goal and the fourth for the Blues at 18:27, Richards had fired a rebound of a shot by a sliding Derick Brassard past Jaroslav Halak to trim the lead to 3-2.
Captain Ryan Callahan scored his second goal of the game, battling in a scrum on a power play at 2:54 of the third. That left the Rangers one behind, 4-3. Enter Derek Dorsett, who like Biron, had a forgettable night with three bad penalties. The last one opened the gate for a 5-3 lead on Vladimir Tarasenko’s power play goal with 9:24 left. “Whether they were good calls or not,” he said, “I just got to find a way to stay out of the box.”
In the third, Vigneault said, “we just ran out of gas, four games in six nights, the effort was there, the willingness was there, but the legs were having a tough time. There are some signs we're headed in the right direction." Added Lundqvist, who stopped 16 of 17 shots in the third: “We kept fighting back; we were close, but close doesn’t get you any points.”