Just last Friday Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault bemoaned his team's lack of consistent play so far this season. On Monday night the Rangers up and down play continued when they followed up Saturday's uplifting 5-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks with a frustrating 5-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets at Madison Square Garden.
Cam Talbot made his second consecutive start in goal, and surrendered more than two goals for the first time in eight starts this season. He finished with 25 saves as his personal six-game winning streak was snapped. The loss dropped the Rangers back to .500 overall (14-14-0) and one game under on home ice (5-6-0) this season.
Former Ranger Olli Jokinen scored with 7:18 to play in the third period to snap a 2-2 tie and send the Blueshirts to defeat, while lifting Winnipeg to its third win over the first four games of their current six-game road trip. Jokinen ripped his fifth goal from the right circle past Talbot for what turned out to be the game-winner. Then with 1:54 left to play Jokinen beat Talbot again with a snap shot to make it 4-2.
Blake Wheeler scored into the empty-net with 51 seconds to play to seal the Rangers fate.
With the game deadlocked at two apiece the Rangers were awarded a power play at 7:11 of the third period, but could not break though against Winnipeg goalie Ondrej Pavelec, managing two shots including a good opportunity for Rick Nash from the slot. Moments later while skating 5-on-5 Chris Kreider sent Derek Stepan in behind the defense and as Stepan wristed a shot from between the circles he was tripped down by the Jets defense. No penalty was called, Pavelec made a strong right-pad save, and the game remained tied.
Talbot then did his part at the other end of the ice with a pair of clutch saves, including a neat pad stop on Wheeler's deflection at the 11-minute mark. However Jokinen scored the go-ahead goal less than two minutes later leaving the Rangers little time to mount a comeback.
The Rangers and Jets arrived at the second intermission tied 2-2 in a game full of momentum swings. The Rangers grabbed an early lead on Mats Zuccarello's goal just 2:49 into the opening period and held an 11-6 shots advantage after one period of play, but the Jets dominated the first half of the second period, scoring twice and forcing the Rangers into a series of mistakes until the Blueshirts regrouped later in the period and pulled even on Ryan Callahan's seventh goal of the season at 15:50.
In the midst of all of this Talbot played well, and also had a bit of luck on his side. The Jets twice rang shots off iron in the second period---once on a Dustin Byfuglien left wing shot early in the period, and the other on a Jacob Trouba shot from right wing later on.
Zuccarello gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead by tipping Ryan McDonagh's left wing slap shot past Pavelec for his fourth goal of the season. The popular Norwegian forward now has recorded points in seven of 11 home games this season, while McDonagh notched his 16th point of the season moving him into a tie for 12th place among all NHL defensemen in points.
After a very strong start to the second period the Jets finally solved Talbot at 8:16 when Devin Setoguchi whipped his seventh goal into the cage from the right circle after a feed from Jokinen. Less than two minutes later the Jets capitalized on Derick Brassard's turnover at the blueline with rookie John Albert scoring off the rush up left wing for his first NHL goal in his NHL debut. The 24 year old was recalled from the minors to take the place of the injured Evander Kane and was skating on Winnipeg's fourth line when he scored the go-ahead goal.
Brassard was immediately lifted off of the second line and dropped to the fourth line by Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault, with Benoit Pouliot moving up to play alongside Callahan and Brad Richards. The move paid off several minutes later as that threesome accounted for the tying goal after a hard-working shoft in the offensive zone.
Pouliot ultimately started the scoring play by wristing a long shot on net while covering for McDonagh at the left point. Pavelec made the save, but could not control the rebound which Callahan chipped to Richards at the side of the net. Richards' bad-angle shot hit off Pavelec and trickled towards the goal line, and Callahan dove to the ice in order to poke the puck into the back of the net with 4:10 remaining in the second period, tying the score 2-2.
The goal was Callahan's first in nine games as he pulled even with Richards for the team lead with seven on the season. The primary assist was Richards' team-high 20th point of the season; and Pouliot's secondary assist was his first point in 15 games.
The Rangers will try and get back on track Thursday night when they face the Sabres up in Buffalo--their only road contest coming up in the next three weeks.