DENVER — This was very much a patched-up roster the Rangers deployed here Saturday afternoon, mounting injuries forcing them to dig deeper into their AHL talent pool.
They were even more shorthanded than initially anticipated as leading goal-scorer Michael Grabner was ruled out with the flu. Henrik Lundqvist kept the Rangers in this one with 34 saves and though they made a push at the end, they couldn’t generate enough quality scoring chances in a 3-1 loss to the streaking Avalanche, winners of nine straight.
“You can’t find any excuses for not going after that win,” Lundqvist said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re missing two guys or 10 guys, the mentality is you go out and try to get the ‘W.’”
It is uncertain whether the Rangers (24-18-5) will get any bodies back for Sunday’s game in Los Angeles as they continue their four-game road trip. Kevin Hayes missed his fourth straight game with a leg contusion and Marc Staal missed his second with a hip-flexor injury. Both players are “at best 50-50” to play against the Kings, according to Alain Vigneault, who had no idea whether he’d have 20-goal-scorer Grabner back.
And they’ll be soldiering on for quite some time without Kevin Shattenkirk, who as was announced Friday will be undergoing surgery Monday to repair the torn meniscus in his left knee, which the first-year Ranger had been playing through since preseason, and Chris Kreider, recovering from the blood clot that led to a rib resection.
J.T. Miller and the shorthanded Rangers can’t fight off the NHL’s hottest team Saturday in Denver.
(Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Rangers were fortunate their injury situation didn’t worsen — or become catastrophic, in this case, since it was the indispensable Lundqvist slow to get up at 12:51 of the first after a collision with Brady Skjei led to some calf pain. Lundqvist was able to shake it off.
Daniel Catenacci became the latest player to make his Rangers debut. He was called up Friday as insurance for the road trip and dressed in Grabner’s stead. Peter Holland played in his third game with the club, Vinni Lettieri his eighth and Tony DeAngelo his ninth — the first since Oct. 23 after he too was recalled from Hartford on Friday.
So after a game in which they generated nothing in the first and spent a large chunk of the third in their end while down a goal before making that push, the Blueshirts spoke about competing, clearly believing they will be better off more often than not when they produce the effort they did Saturday.
“For the majority of the game we probably got stuck in our zone a little bit too much,” Ryan McDonagh said. “I loved our battle and compete here with a lot of relatively new faces. Guys really battled for one another.”
Jimmy Vesey and the Rangers kept it close, but ultimately couldn’t hang with the Avs.
(Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)
Pavel Buchnevich redirected a Mats Zuccarello feed in for a power-play goal at 6:55 of the second to bring the Rangers within one. Buchnevich scored for the second straight game after a 13-game goal-less drought. Goals by Erik Johnson and Hart Trophy contender Nathan MacKinnon staked the Avalanche (26-16-3) to a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
“They’re feeling it right now, there’s no question about that,” Lundqvist said of Colorado. “Their top guys are playing really well and make the difference. They’re a quick team. Their transition game is really good, they create a lot off the rush. But I really like the way we battled. We worked really hard against a really good team that has a ton of confidence right now. In this league when you work hard and you have a lot of confidence and things are working for you, it’s a tough team to beat.”
The Rangers now go from the hot Avalanche to a Kings team that has lost six in a row. Every team the Blueshirts will face on this trip is in their shoes, all in the middle of the pack trying to pry away points every single game.
“They’re gonna be tight games,” McDonagh said. “You need contributions from your whole lineup.”
A lineup that right now is just trying to get by.