It is evident is that the Rangers are a work in progress.
Still, there are signs that they are beginning to become the team that they were expected to be.
The Rangers’ 5-2 win over San Jose Monday night at Madison Square Garden was not a complete game, but it was their best game of the season.
Ryan Callahan scored two goals and had an assist. Brandon Dubinsky, Erik Christensen and Dan Girardi had two assists each. Nine players finished with plus-one or better ratings.
“I felt like we put together a full 60. That’s what we’ve been looking for, for awhile now,” Callahan said.
The Stanley Cup has never been won in October, but plenty of teams have found themselves having to spend the rest of the season playing catch-up because they’ve ceded ground in the divisional and conference races.
The Rangers led 2-1 after the first period on the strength of Ryan McDonagh’s third goal of the season 4:46 into the game and Derek Stepan’s power play goal at 14:53. Joe Pavelski halved the lead with 2:10 left in the first by shoving a rebound of a Douglas Murray point shot that hit both posts behind Martin Biron (26 saves) under the Rangers backup goaltender.
Among the many concerns for the Rangers in the first one-eighth of the season has been their inability to play a complete game. That issue once again came to the forefront when San Jose tied the game on Logan Couture’s slapshot from the left faceoff dot at 11:03 of the second. The score completed a dominating forechecking shift that kept the Rangers pinned in their own end for about a minute and half.
Unlike the losses to Toronto and Ottawa, in which they were unable to stop the Leafs and Senators from taking and retaining control of those games, the Rangers fought back.
“We said in the second and the third, ‘We can’t relax, we can’t let down, we’ve got to keep playing the way we were playing,’” Callahan said. “I felt we stayed composed and that’s what we did.”
Ryan Callahan lifted a shot over Antti Niemi (23 saves), who was slow all night to augment his lack of rebound control, at 14 minutes. Artem Anisimov’s flip backhander 2:42 later increased the lead to 4-2. Callahan’s tumbling, almost behind-the-back, goal with 48 seconds left in the second pushed the lead to 5-2.
“It was funny. We were talking on the bench how we were going to score. [Anisimov] put a beautiful shot upstairs,” Christensen said. “Our definition of finding a way is sticking to our game plan. Our strengths are getting the puck in down low, getting it behind the net and working from there.”
The Rangers were an ornery group throughout. Brandon Prust fought Ryan Clowe seven seconds into the match, and as a team, they regularly initiated post-whistle scrums. The Rangers finished the game with 26 hits and 16 blocked shots, reminiscent of the 2010-11 edition.
“That’s part of Prustie’s game. I think he got us going there right off the first shift, did a great job on Clowe,” Girardi said. “Our game was there most of the night tonight.”
Follow NHL beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.