On paper, the odds seemed against the St. Louis Blues.
After all, they came into Madison Square Garden on Tuesday missing five injured players: Alex Steen, Jay Bouwmeester, Robby Fabbri, Patrik Berglund and Zach Sanford. They played Monday afternoon in Brooklyn, and backup goaltender Carter Hutton was making his first appearance of the season against the Rangers.
That’s why they play the games. The Blues picked up their fourth consecutive victory, 3-1, and dropped the Rangers to 1-3.
Is there any concern at 1-3?
“There has to be,” said Rick Nash. “With all these home games early on, these are the games when you get to March and April, they really mean something. So I think there’s an urgency to fix this and start winning some games.”
Just 15 seconds in, the Blues got on the board. Carl Gunnarsson was left alone in front and beat Henrik Lundqvist, making his fourth consecutive start, for his second goal of the season.
To be fair, the Rangers weren’t all that fresh playing their fourth game in six days, but when Jaden Schwartz went off for a hook at 1:18, the Rangers tied the score.
Mika Zibanejad fired in a backhand pass from Pavel Buchnevich, his team-leading fifth goal and fourth on the power play at 2:21, knotting the score at 1. It was the center’s fourth straight game with a goal.
It was defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk’s first appearance against the Blues with whom he had played for seven seasons before signing here. He downplayed any nerves. “I’ve kinda been away from there for what feels like a long time, so it might make it easier just settling in,” he said.
In fact, it was Shattenkirk’s shot from the point, with the puck stopped by Hutton, but bounced to Buchnevich for the assist as the power play improved to 5 for 13.
The Chris Kreider-Zibanejad-Buchnevich trio had notched 11 points. But the rest of the offense had gone dry.
With Paul Carey off for slashing with 7:41 left, the Blues went back in front. After Steven Kampfer had slid across the slot, out of the play, Brayden Schenn’s bad angle shot to the right of Lundqvist banked off the goalie’s arm and shoulder and in at 13:30. The Blues had two goals on four shots. The Rangers had one on 11.
In the second period, Mats Zuccarello took Michael Grabner’s spot with J.T. Miller and Nash. Grabner skated with Kevin Hayes and Jimmy Vesey, but to no avail. The Blues laid back and bottled up the Blueshirts in mid-ice, made them work for everything, and held them to just six shots on Hutton. That included a futile power play at 6:27.
Without the power play, the Rangers have been awfully light when it comes to scoring. Of their 10 goals, only five have been scored at even strength. The forwards without points so far this season? Nash, Vesey and David Desharnais. And Hayes and Grabner have just one assist each.
With 14:50 to go in regulation, the Blues had a two-man advantage for 1:15 with Ryan McDonagh and Kampfer in the penalty box. In a golden opportunity after killing the 5 on 3, Grabner was stopped on a breakaway by Hutton, who finished with 32 saves.
The Rangers got pucks in deeper, with just under nine minutes left, but Hutton made three saves, two on Vesey, to hold the fort. He stopped two shots, just under the six minute mark, one that left Buchnevich frustrated.
And with Lundqvist pulled for an extra skater, Schwartz scored an empty-netter with 1:45 left.
Mika Zibanejad: “We’ve been getting goals, but haven’t been able to get the more important goals, late in the game, that’s unfortunate,” said Zibanejad. “We have to be a little more desperate when it comes to that.”