When the Rangers were breezing along with the breeze at the National Hockey League summit, there were skeptics who waited for the Blueshirts bubble to burst.
Yes, Alain Vigneault‘s skaters still are comfortably above the .500 mark (16-8-1) but, no, this is not the same easy-to-win sextet that so arrested attention and awe in the season’s opening months.
There’s a feeling that opponents have figured ways and means of slowing down the speed that carried New York to the top in early Autumn.
Putting back-to-back wins together has become tougher and that fact was apparent in Buffalo on Thursday night.
Atonement for New York will have to wait until Saturday afternoon when the Hurricanes make a return visit to Seventh Avenue.
Super sophomore Jack Eichel simply took the game away from the Rangers with a pair of late third period counters. This time, no miracle late-game finish was in the Blueshirts’ playbook as it was against Carolina at The Garden.
WHAT WENT WRONG:
1. KILLER INSTINCT: Leading 3-2 in the third after goals by Ryan McDonagh, Rick Nash and Marc Staal, the New Yorkers couldn’t put a lid on their lead.
2. WHERE ARE THE FORWARDS? Two out of the three Rangers goals were delivered by backliners.
3. STOPPING EICHEL: It’s a proven fact that as Jack Eichel goes, so go the Sabres. The Rangers blanketed the super-soph for most of the game, except … late in the third period.
4. DEFENSIVE ZONE: Buffalo was able to sustain pressure in the Rangers zone throughout the game. Is this becoming a pattern?
5. BAD LUCK: Eichel’s winning goal deflected off Mats Zuccarello‘s skate past Henrik Lundqvist.
WHAT WENT RIGHT:
1. POWER PLAY: McDonagh and Nash scored power-play goals.
2. ADAM CLENDENING RETURNS: The oft-scratched defenseman notched a power play assist, was credited with two hits and one blocked shot. He has registered an assist/point in each of the last three games (three assists).
3. BUILDING BLOCKS: The Blueshirts did a good job blocking shots, filling up passing lanes.
4. NASH IS NOTABLE: The Big Guy is in a groove and has become the dominant forward the Rangers need right now.
1. MISSING MIKA: There’s no longer a question about the need for injured Mika Zibanejad in the Rangers lineup. Until that happens, the Blueshirts must revise their lineup to regain more offensive power.
2. LATE PENALTIES KILL: Two Blueshirts penalties late in the game changed the complexion of the match in Buffalo’s favor.
CONCLUSION: The Rangers need to turn it around fast … starting Saturday.
NEXT GAME: The Rangers’ next contest comes this Saturday vs. Carolina Hurricanes. Coverage begins at 1 p.m. on MSG Networks.