Coach Alain Vigneault knew that to tighten the Rangers’ system, buttons had to be pushed.
After losing two straight games — and allowing 12 goals to open the season — Vigneault opted to play seven defensemen against the Montreal Canadiens on Sunday, and made Brendan Smith a healthy scratch.
Henrik Lundqvist made 34 saves for his 62nd career shutout and Brady Skjei and Mika Zibanejad scored as the Rangers beat the Canadiens, 2-0, at Madison Square Garden for their first win of the season. Lundqvist rebounded after allowing five first-period goals Saturday and being pulled in Toronto.
It was important, “not just for Hank, but our whole team,” said Vigneault. “Other than maybe the first five or six minutes, we competed hard, and when we made some mistakes Hank came up with the right saves at the right time. That’s what we needed. He did what we’re used to having.”
Indeed, in their third game in four nights, the Rangers played a more conservative style Sunday after allowing five goals in the first period Saturday to fall behind 5-1.
The Canadiens, who had also played Saturday and allowed four goals to Alex Ovechkin in a 6-1 loss to the Capitals, appeared to take a 1-0 lead against the Rangers at 6:24 of the first period.
A kneeling Lundqvist appeared to squeeze his pads and cover the puck, but it trickled to his left and ended up in the net. He immediately argued with the officials and a review showed that Andrew Shaw, at the right post, kicked the puck in with his skate.
Then with 11:01 left, defenseman Shea Weber’s blast from the right point hit Lundqvist in the chest, and bounced off Max Pacioretty, who battled with Ryan McDonagh battling in front and past the goalie. Vigneault challenged the goal, citing goaltender interference, and won it.
Skjei opened the scoring by wristing a shot from deep along the left boards that caromed in off Weber’s skate, who battled in front with Grabner, and past Price at 17:25.
“This is how we have to play, do every little thing right,” said Lundqvist. “We got two calls there, correct calls there, but when we got the first goal we settled down. We played smart, not forcing things.”
In the third, 16 seconds after Lundqvist stopped Jonathan Drouin’s snap shot with his arm, Zibanejad, low in the left circle, fired the puck between the left post and Price at 9:13. It was Zibanejad’s fourth goal of the season, which leads the team, and his first at even strength.
“I try to shoot and the puck seems to go in right now,” he said. “Just trying to place myself in a good spot and the guys are finding me. Got to keep shooting while you’re hot, I guess.”
The Rangers’ power-play was scoreless, but the penalty-kill, which allowed three goals to the Leafs, improved, with players not collapsing back toward the net. They were more aggressive in passing lanes.
On Tuesday, the Rangers have a chance to even their record when they play the St. Louis Blues at home (the Rangers play 10 home games this month). And the familiar chants of “Hen-reek, Hen-reek,” which returned to Seventh Avenue on Sunday, especially in the third period, could return.