Sure, the Rangers had it all figured out on home ice where they took the last three games of a 4 game homestand, but the million dollar question was what was their act like when they hit the road, the Rangers in 5 road games going into this game had only one victory, and it was by the slimmest of margins, taking a 5-4 shootout decision over the Otters after once holding a dominant 4-1 lead, though the Rangers did show lots of promise in a 5-4 shootout loss in London, the team's last road effort. There's another very positive trend that started in the Rangers' 4-1 home ice win over the London Knights, the Rangers' team goals against has been plumetting of late. Against the Knights the Rangers allowed a goal early and then refused to allow another right through to the end of the game. Against the Petes' it was a similar scenario, but reversed, the Rangers held the Petes' off of the scoresheet until the third period when Justin Caruana broke the shutout, but only got the Petes a goal closer after the Rangers had opened up a 6-0 lead. This time, John Murray was dialed in and as a result a first start performance and first career shutout came to the 19-year-old rookie, who picked up his second win in two opportunities on his homeland. The Rangers themselves have taken three shutouts into the third period, each time the result has gotten better and better, in Windsor, they lost the shutout and with Mark Packwood at the helm, they also fell in the shootout after having established a 2-0 lead in that period. Against the Petes' they won 7-1, but didn't get the cherry on top as it were after a somewhat flukey and high (but legal deflection put an end to the shutout. This time 43 shots later, pretty much a season-high that the Rangers have allowed against, aside from their wild shootout game in London, John Murray had his first shutout.
The Rangers also got off to a big start, it
wasn't a big player that made things happen. Justin Azevedo scored
very early, only 35 seconds in for his second goal in two games after struggling
mightly to score for several weeks, it was the good start that the Rangers
needed to jumpstart their confidence on the road. The Whalers had
a semi-veteran rookie netminder of their own. Michal Neuvirth, from
the Czech Republic is an 18-year-old netminder who was made property of
the Washington Capitals after they used their second round selection on
him in the last NHL draft. Murray, likewise is another rookie who
was drafted by the New York Rangers prior to coming to the OHL. Things
have changed over the last couple of years, it used to be a big deal when
Peter DeBoer, former head coach of the Whalers arrived in town, the Whalers
were perpetual juggernauts, and the Rangers were anxious to help their
coach defeat his old team. Times have changed and since the back
to back seasons when the Rangers ran into the Whalers in the post-season
in 2003 and 2004. With the team tentatively up for sale along with
the arena, attendance has plumetted and it showed on Saturday night, the
game wasn't much better if you were a Whalers' fan though.
The Rangers were dominant through the first period. Outshooting the Whalers 19-13 and causing havoc while on the penalty kill, something that the Rangers have excelled at recently. Infact quickly after killing a penalty, the Rangers took to a power play of their own late in the first period. Matt Halischuk who was finally bottled up for a game against the Peterborough Petes, got loose again notching another goal. In the second period after a very strong opening period the Rangers let up a little bit. It wasn't that they played a horrible period, both teams were cautious, the next goal was huge and the Rangers weren't overly interested in allowing the Whalers back into the game. At the same time the Whalers' could ill afford to allow the Rangers to gain a three goal advantage, the way that John Murray was performing that kind of lead might be insurmountable. Call it a tight checking period.
A perfect road effort came to a close in the third period with Yves Bastien's first goal of the season, it's becoming less and less of a surprise to the Rangers and gradually the remainder of the league. Brian Soso burst into the zone with his two youngster accomplises: Nazem Kadri and Yves Bastien. Brian Soso's took the puck over the line and with some deft touch dropped a pass across to Nazem Kadri who nearly scored and finally to Yves Bastien who finally on the 16th game of the season got his first goal of the season. A former fellow struggler Kevin Henderson seemed to get grounded a little after his hat trick effort on Friday night. It wasn't for lack of effort, Hendo simply couldn't find the back of the net despite many great opportunities. After the Rangers took the 3-0 lead, the game did start getting a little rough, Bortuzzo stepped in to rough it up with James Neal after Neal started annoying his defense partner Jakub Kindl and shortly afterwards Kevin Henderson got into a tussle after getting his elbow a little high on an unsuspecting Whaler defender. Wes Cunningham as a result took the instigator, and Henderson the elbowing minor which evened out, cooler head prevailed down the stretch allowing the Rangers to gain a 3-0 victory.