NEW YORK -- Just when things were going well for the New York Rangers' power play ...
It was only two nights ago that players and media alike were praising the efficiency of a unit that has long been the team’s weakest link. Perhaps that was a jinx?
More likely it was a skilled and stingy penalty-killing effort from the New Jersey Devils, who stopped all five Ranger power-play opportunities -- including a critical chance midway through the third period -- to top the Blueshirts 3-2 at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night.
“It seemed like tonight they did a good job blocking our shots, or we blocked our own shots,” veteran center Brad Richards said. “You have to give them credit; they work hard on that penalty kill and we knew it was going to be a challenge.”
Tuesday night, the Rangers’ power play wasn’t maligned by the problems of seasons past, when the unit more often than not looked disjointed, disorganized and downright impotent. The unit generated chances, but the Devils and veteran netminder Martin Brodeur yielded nothing.
“They played well. They blocked a lot of shots,” said Mats Zuccarello, who picked up an assist on Marc Staal's second-period marker and screened Brodeur on Dan Girardi's game-tying deflection in the third. “We have to be better. No excuses, but we also have to give them credit. Their PK played well.”
The Devils are currently fourth in the league with an 86.9 percent success rate on the penalty kill; they have surrendered only eight goals in the 61 times they were short-handed in the first 18 games of the season.
That was something the Rangers knew heading into Tuesday’s match, something that they prepared for and game planned to face.
“They were pressing very aggressively but we knew that going in,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “They’re not the only team that does that. Teams that are aggressive as they are, you have to move it with quick, short little passes to get away from that pressure. Tonight, the execution wasn’t there.”
Even though the Rangers made a concerted effort to pressure Brodeur with 35 shots, the Devils still did a good job of clogging things up and shutting them down.
The 41-year-old Brodeur, coming off two straight shutout performances, was stellar in besting rival Henrik Lundqvist and snapping New York's three-game winning streak.
“It’s tough with Brodeur,” Richards said. “No matter what, he breaks down your forecheck. It’s inevitable that when you dump the puck he’s out there like a third defenseman. We fired 35 shots on net and a lot more away from it. They were not giving us the second and third chances.”