CALGARY, Alberta — All of the line and defensive alterations that head coach Alain Vigneault had fashioned clicked, and the Rangers dismissed the struggling Flames, 4-1, on Saturday night to start their four-game road trip on a high note.
After a disappointing 5-3 loss to Vancouver on Tuesday, the Rangers headed west with a different look up front and each line scored in the first two periods at the Saddledome.
“For the most part tonight, each line seemed to have chemistry,” Vigneault said. “In the first two periods, obviously in the third, we spent too much time in our own end.”
Michael Grabner, now a fourth-liner, gave the Rangers the lead after grabbing a loose puck at center ice, speeding around defenseman Brent Kulak and firing high from the right circle past goalie Brian Elliot at 6:42. It was Grabner’s eighth goal of the year; he had nine all of last season with Toronto. Derek Stepan made it 2-0 after a persistent shift in the Flames’ zone, with Chris Kreider finding him in front with a short pass at 11:59.
“Our line has played together a whole season before, we know each other,” Stepan had said of the trio with Rick Nash. “If you have three individuals, and if they play their best, it’s going to look like chemistry. Yeah, you gather tendencies; with Kreids or Nasher, I know certain tendencies and I can support them. But I do believe some of these line changes get a little overanalyzed.”
The Rangers’ defense kept most of the shots on Henrik Lundqvist from the outside, or from sharp angles, until the last minute of the first period. A poor pass led to Johnny Gaudreau’s breakaway that Lundqvist foiled and he kicked away another open shot by Troy Brouwer. Lundqvist, who last started here in a 5-2 win on Dec. 16, 2014, stopped 35 shots.
“I think the first goal really helped us play our game,” Lundqvist said. “It seemed like we were waiting for something to happen, but that [goal] got our legs going. It was a strong start after being off for a few days.”
Early in the second, the Flames applied some pressure and won battles on the boards, but Lundqvist denied Freddie Hamilton alone on left side. There were no penalties until Michael Ferlund went off to serve a too-many-men call at 3:48. The Rangers didn’t connect, and eventually started taking control of the game.
“You’re not up 4-0 a lot in this league, so it’s hard to find that line on when to be aggressive and sit back,” said Dan Girardi, who was credited with three of the Rangers’ 24 blocked shots. “But it was a full-roster effort tonight.”
Rookie Jimmy Vesey scored his seventh of the season from in front of Elliot, redirecting a laser pass from Ryan McDonagh from the left wall for his seventh at 9:26, then Pavel Buchnevich scored in his fourth consecutive game at 14:22. That tied him for the team’s rookie mark with Stepan, who turned the trick in 2010-11.
Calgary, which has lost its last four games and fell to 5-10-1, didn’t fold and played its best hockey in the third period, and scored on a power play, when Ferlund redirected T.J. Brodie’s pass through Lundqvist at 11:12.
Another switch by Vigneault looked good, as well. He moved lefthanded rookie Brady Skjei to the second defensive pair, on the right side with Marc Staal.
“I just see that Brady’s progression lately with his puck decisions, his gap, the way he can skate away from the forecheck, it was time to give him a shot on the right side,” he said before the game, and Skjei, who plus-2 for the game, looked very quick, and comfortable.
The victory showed the Blueshirts’ ability to rebound. In their last 25 games, the Rangers are 21-4-0 following a loss of any type: regulation, overtime or shootout and 4-0-0 this year. The 11 wins in their first 15 games also ties the mark set in 1990-91 and last season. They play the Oilers tomorrow.