Brad Richards scored twice, and Ryan McDonagh scored one of the strangest goals one will ever see, as the Rangers earned their first victory of the season for new head coach Alain Vigneault, beating the Los Angeles Kings 3-1 Monday night at the Staples Center.
A four-day layoff between their opening-night 4-1 loss in Phoenix and their second game of the season in Los Angeles certainly did not seem to hurt the Rangers collective game at all, and in fact the team may have benefitted from the days off. The Rangers played with plenty of energy and jump all night long, and showed much character when Taylor Pyatt and Ryan Callahan both missed long stretches of play after receiving cuts. Vigneault maneuvered his forwards like chess pieces, with Arron Asham, Brian Boyle, Dominic Moore, and Derck Brassard among those double-shifting when Pyatt and Callahan were absent.
Pyatt was cut early in the first period and did not retrun until the start of the second. Callahan, playing for the first time since off-season shoulder surgery, was escorted off the ice, bleeding from the mouth, after colliding with the Kings' Anze Kopitar on his first shift of the second period. The Rangers' captain did not return until the third period started.
To their credit the Rangers never missed a beat as Richards scored in each of the first two periods, with Rick Nash assisting on both goals, and Henrik Lundqvist was solidly efficent in goal. Still the Rangers' lead was only 2-1 and the Kings were on the power play early in the third period when Boyle won a faceoff in his own end and McDonagh hammered the puck off the boards and all the way down the ice. Instead of an innocent clear, though, the play turned into a flukey goal when Los Angeles goaltender Jonathan Quick came out of his net to play the puck, but lost his stick and bent down to stop it with his blocker. The puck bounced off his blocker, though, and rolled to his right, directly into the gaping cage, for a goal that will be replayed on blooper reels for ages to come.
McDonagh's shorthanded score, his first of the young season, zapped the energy out of the Staples Center where the Kings were playing their home opener, and cemented the Blueshirts first win under Vigneault.
Richards had provided the Rangers their first lead of the young season at the 13:32 mark of the first period, converting a bad-angle shot from the right side while falling to the ice. Derek Stepan started the scoring play by stealing the puck in the offensive zone. Nash then collected it on left wing and wired a shot on net that was stopped by Quick, but the puck came to Richards on the right side and he was able to get the puck up and over Quick despite the fact that he himself went sliding into the back wall.
The Rangers had a string of chances to double their lead in the second period, but Quick made one big save after another to keep the visitors at bay. Quick was tested in the first shift of the middle stanza when Pyatt---back on the ice after being stitched up---and Boyle each charged the net and provided prime scoring chances. Then Quick robbed Benoit Pouliot not just once, but twice in a span of 90 seconds. Near the three-minute mark Quick sprawled to his left to stone a wide-open Pouliot on the doorstep after a slick feed from behind the net by Derick Brassard. Then at 4:45 Brassard's pinpoint pass sent Pouliot flying towards the Kings net on left wing, but again Quick made a sensational stop to keep the Rangers lead at 1-0.
The lead eventually did double for the Rangers in the second period. Shortly after an excellent penalty kill in which Pyatt nearly scored off a shorthanded partial breakaway the Rangers swarmed the KIngs deep in their own end of the ice before Richards' attempted pass down low deflected off the stick of Los Angeles defenseman Slava Voynov and over the goal line at 10:46.
However the Kings responded at 12:11 to cut the Rangers lead in half. Dan Girardi lost the puck before clearing it out over the blueline with the teams skating four-on-four and the Kings' Mike Richards found defenseman Jake Muzzin wide open in the slot. Muzzin waited and then roofed a wicked shot just under the crossbar for his first goal of the season. The score remained 2-1 until McDonagh's flukey goal early in the third.
Though Callahan and Pyatt both missed extended periods of time in the game Monday, each was a force in all three zones when healthy and out on the ice. Callahan leveled Kings defenseman Robyn Regehr on his first shift of the game--and of the season for him---and was credited with three hits before the first stanza was complete. Pyatt was a force below the hash marks, using his large frame time and again to keep the puck away from Los Angeles defensemen.
Asham also made his season debut for the Rangers and played a smart, physical game, just as Vigneault had said he hoped the veteran would. Along with adeptly moving from line to line, Asham also dropped the gloves with Kyle Clifford early in the second period, upping his career penalty minutes total to five minutes shy of the 1,000 mark.