Sunday morning coming down.
Not sure why this didn't emerge when I wrote it last night, but here tis, belated, but here...
KEY STAT: Just 2-for-the last 23 on the PP
Perhaps the best omen for the Rangers following a frustrating 2-1 overtime loss to the Hurricanes was the sight of Vinny Prospal walking down the corridor without a limp following arthroscopic knee surgery last week.
“Good as new,” said the team’s second-leading scorer, who nonetheless will remain sidelined for several more games as his teammates struggle to put the puck in the net.
Not new enough. In fact, the scoring drought is the same old song in the new year.
Only Marian Gaborik’s league-leading 27th goal, a spinning backhander under Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward at 9:08 of the third period averted the Blueshirts’ second consecutive shutout at Madison Square Garden, following the 6-0 whitewash by the Flyers in the last game here.
“It wasn’t so much line combinations, just finishing a chance,” said coach John Tortorella. “I thought some of our best chances, we shot wide, let along the four or five posts we hit…We lose a point because we simply don’t bury a couple of our chances. It shouldn’t be going into overtime. We have to get someone to step up and score a goal other than Gabby.”
At the halfway mark of the regular season, Gaborik has 25 percent of the goals for the Rangers (19-17-5), who have 43 points and are a worrisome 8-10-3 (28th in the NHL) at Madison Square Garden, where they play four of the next six.
“We had more chances than them, we outplayed them, but it’s just not going in for us,” said Ales Kotalik. “We needed those two points and we don’t have them. One is not enough.”
Before he scored, Gaborik hit iron twice, Ryan Callahan and Erik Christensen once each, and Ward (27 saves) got a piece of an Artem Anisimov shot before it, too, dinged the post behind him.
The Rangers missed the net on 19 shots: Brandon Dubinsky, playing on left wing for the second straight game, led the team with four, and snakebit Chris Higgins, who has yet to score at home this season, had two excellent opportunities early and came up short.
“I’ve seen these guys score in practice, I know they can do it,” said Lundqvist, who allowed Ray Whitney’s backhander at 3:45 of overtime after a pass glanced off Michael Del Zotto’s skate, and Tom Kostopoulos’ first goal in 17 games off a scramble in front with 36 seconds left in the first.
But even with a four-minute man-advantage in the second period when Jussi Jokinen was in the box for high-sticking Dan Girardi, the Rangers didn’t test Ward for the first two minutes, remained behind 1-0, and were 0-for-4 for the afternoon. “It wasn’t a good night (for the power play),” said Tortorella. “They (Carolina) were much more aggressive and we didn’t win a faceoff.”
On the power play, said Gaborik, who has 10 points in the last eight games, the Rangers need to be more competitive. “We have to be stronger. We need to be confident with it,” he said. “We have an edge in every game if it goes to the power play.” Although the power-play ranks fifth in the league, the units are under constant pressure to connect because the 5-on-5 scoring has been woeful, with 13 even-strength goals in the last 10 games.
Lundqvist has surrendered two or fewer goals in 11 of his last 14 starts, but understands the high wire on which the Rangers are walking, with or without Prospal, who has eight goals and 24 assists in 38 games. “We’re playing so many tight games,” he said. “We can’t afford any mistakes.”
Day off Sunday, back skating Monday before B's visit.
Some other post-game notes that slipped thru the cracks here...
The Rangers brass is implementing some travel changes and perhaps in preparing for home games. "We’ve had a lot of discussions on how we’re going to try to change a few things," coach John Tortorella said, but ruled out game-day skates at the Garden. "I think we take too good care of them sometimes...We’re changing our travel into the Island and Jersey, where it’s not going to be 10 freakin’ limos flying in from all over the place and coming in for a morning skate. We’re leaving the night before the game, on a bus, and going as a team to New Jersey and to the Island from now on. There are so many things that come into play with people spread out all over the city and Westchester that I’m just beginning to understand and trying to get a better handle on it to be more team-conducive.”
Goalie Matt Zaba, who backed up Henrik Lundqvist in the 2-1 overtime loss when rookie Chad Johnson was sent to Hartford to get a game in, might see some NHL ice-time. Zaba, 26, was 25-10 with a 2.33 GAA with the Wolf Pack last season. Johnson, 23, made 17 saves in his NHL debut in relief of Lundqvist in Wednesday’s 6-0 loss to the Flyers. "We've gotta make sure we don't lose our development,” the coach said. “There's gonna be a lot of miles going back and forth with those two guys, we've gone through a whole mapping of the schedule to make sure they both get some games here as we go.”
Lundqvist was flexing his arm in the third period because of a "stinger" in his left shoulder...Erik Christensen's assist on Marian Gaborik's game-tying goal was his third point in two games...Brandon Dubinsky is one point shy of 100 for his career.