The first two games of the Rangers current three game swing of Western Canada has gone pretty well by most standards. They are 2-0, have outscored the Canucks and the Oilers by a collective 7-1 margin, both Marc Staal and Dan Girardi have scored goals of their own – a rarity in Rangerstown – and JT Miller has continued to make the most of his latest opportunity with the big boys. But as well as things have gone, the news hasn’t all been positive, as Derick Brassard has become the latest Ranger to fall victim to the mumps virus.
On Saturday, the Rangers started their road trip off on the right foot, as they earned a convincing and decisive 5-1 win over a solid Canucks team. Mats Zuccarello, who has been offensively snake-bitten at times, found his scoring touch as he netted two of his own, while Marc Staal, Ryan McDonagh, and JT Miller all added tallies as well. For Staal and McDonagh, the goals were their first of the season, while Miller’s goal was his third goal and fifth point since his latest recall to New York.
Less than 24 hours and 720 miles later, from Rogers Arena in Vancouver to Rexall Place in Edmonton, the puck dropped between the Rangers and the Oilers. Earlier that day, however, was when the news broke about Brassard and his bout with the mumps.
With his diagnosis, Brassard became the second Ranger after Tanner Glass to be diagnosed with the virus that is spreading throughout the NHL. And while Brassard was sent home to New York before the game against Edmonton, the Rangers had some adjusting to do.
In reference to Brassard’s mumps:
More AV: “head-to-head against Sid. Maybe Sid gave it to him. I don’t know. But he’s got it now and we’ve got to deal with it.”
— Steve Zipay (@stevezipay) December 15, 2014
Because there was such a time crunch between Vancouver and Edmonton, nobody was recalled from the Hartford Wolf Pack of the American Hockey League, which in turn forced Vigneault and company to play around and shuffle lines with the players on hand.
The end result featured Chris Kreider, who had been demoted to the fourth line the previous night against the Canucks, back on the second line alongside Derek Stepan and Martin St. Louis, while JT Miller, who had been playing on the wing, moved back to the middle, as he centered Nash and Zuccarello on the top line.
It certainly wasn’t the best case scenario for the Rangers, and Sunday’s tilt with the Oilers was definitely not one of the most riveting games to ever be played; if fans sit on the edge of their seats during an exciting game, then they were slouched deep within the couch during the Oilers game…
But at the end of the day, it all worked out of the Blueshirts. They played a slow, methodical game in which they suffocated Edmonton on defense, and did just enough offensively to earn the win. The Rangers defense also contributed again, as Dan Girardi’s goal during the second period stood as the game winner.
Additionally, JT Miller continued to make the most of his opportunity with a decent game at center where he was quick on the puck, played on the power play, and had a shot on goal and a takeaway, and Henrik Lundqvist earned his fifth shutout of the season, and the 55th of his career.
Given the circumstances, it was a big positive sign that with the travel and the short turnaround, the Rangers still left Edmonton with a win. That cannot be understated.
With Absence Comes Opportunity
In 27 games, Derick Brassard has collected 24 points (8-16-24), and has been the Rangers number one center for a good portion of the season. The loss of Brassard to the mumps is a tough one, made even tougher under the assumption that because of the tight schedule and travel that would be involved, a call-up from Hartford will not likely happen, if at all, until the Rangers travel back east.
It is still unknown just how long Brassard will be absent from the lineup, but it will presumably be a few more games, which could open the door for another “young gun” to get his shot under the bright lights of Broadway. Perhaps Oscar Lindberg will finally get his chance, but whichever way you slice it, that will have to wait at least a couple more days.
That means, though, that the Rangers will have to overcome a little adversity again on Tuesday, as they head to Calgary to take on a very impressive, fast, and young Flames squad. New York will need to collectively rise to the occasion, and play smart hockey in the absence of Brass, just as they did on Sunday if they’re going to overcome this little “mump” in the road.
Oh, and also hope that the rest of their team isn’t just moments away from displaying symptoms, and coming down with the virus as well…
Jake Gittler is now in his second season as a contributing member of The Hockey Writers. After spending the 2014-15 season working in Communications for Adirondack Flames of the AHL and covering the New York Rangers here for The Hockey Writers, Jake’s coverage has been switched over to the Colorado Avalanche for the 2015-16 season. Jake can be reached via email at Jakegittler@gmail.com, or on Twitter @Jgittler_hockey.