Last night, the Rangers defeated the Winnipeg Jets (still getting used to saying that) by the score of 2-1. After a scoreless first period and an exchange of goals in the second (Ruslan Fedotenko and Nik Antropov), it was Ryan Callahan who got the game winner on a power play deflection at 8:41 of the third period. Callahan was on the rush and put the puck on net, when it went in off Winnipeg’s defenseman Eric Bogosian and right into the Jets’ net. You could say that this goal was a flukey, lucky break, but Callahan did exactly what the Rangers have had so much trouble doing this season–shoot the puck and put it on goal. (EDIT: As a reader has pointed out, its not clear that Callahan actually was shooting on goal, but there is no question that Callahan sent the puck toward the goal, and it went in off the opposing player).
In fact, the Rangers did several things right last night. First, the goaltending continues to be excellent, even when its been backup Marty Biron between the pipes. The defense also played better in front of Biron, and the offense converted on two of the four power plays. Plus, and this could be the most important thing, the Blueshirts stayed out of the penalty box.
But questions remain. If not for the great netminding, the Rangers would not be headed home with three wins on this Western Canada trip. They have 14 goals in seven games, with 14 goals against. What that says is the team is very weak offensively and has tremendous goaltending. It also says that the D is not doing that badly. While everyone has been focusing on who on the blueline is missing (i.e., Marc Staal and Mike Sauer), and how to get an acceptable sixth defenseman on this team, generally the defense’s results have been okay. Now don’t believe for a minute that I think that Jeff Woywitka or Brendan Bell can do the job for an entire season (or even for a month), and this last week both of them made significant blunders that caused both of them to be benched at different times, but it has not hurt the Rangers that much so far.
What has hurt New York, and will set them back even more as better teams come into Madison Square Garden, is their lack of offense. If you don’t shoot at the net, and get the puck on net when you take the shot, you can’t score goals. It is that simple, and once again last night, the Rangers were held to 17 shots. Its hard to win on shots numbering in the teens, which has been a regularity on this trip.
As better teams come to New York to play over the coming weeks, the Rangers will only be able to avoid a sea change in results if they focus on taking the puck in on net.
The first home game of the season is on Thursday when the Toronto Maple Leafs faceoff against the Blueshirts. With Phil Kessel on a tear, and Toronto’s run and gun offense, the Leafs are no longer pushovers. It will be the first real test against a very offensively potent team. New York may get lucky and face Jonas Gustavsson, who has not been as effective in goal as James Reimer, but the Rangers will have to score some goals and keep up their D to beat the Leafs this week.