Before the New York Rangers visited the Washington Capitals on Saturday night, coach Alain Vigneault said his club had played well enough to be undefeated.
“We could easily be sitting here 4-0 the way we played in those games, both offensively and defensively,” he said of his 2-2 club. “But I like the way our team is playing. … with any type of luck or finish, our record would be different right now.”
Vigneault may have been on to something as the Rangers rallied from a 2-0 deficit to beat the Capitals 4-2 at Verizon Center less than 24 hours before hosting the rested and waiting Arizona Coyotes at Madison Square Garden on Sunday night.
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The Rangers' two losses this season were a one-goal setback in St. Louis in which they outshot the Blues 15-0 in the third period but could not find the tying goal and a one-goal defeat at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings, who were buoyed by a brilliant performance by goaltender Jimmy Howard.
Against the Capitals, a team many experts think can win a Stanley Cup this year, the Rangers showed again why their coach has so much faith in them.
“I love the way we won this game,” Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said. “The way we battled back, the way we believe in our system. I thought we played a really strong game.”
The Coyotes (1-3-0) are hardly in the same class as the Capitals, but have the luxury of facing the Rangers following a day off Saturday. That's about all that is working in the favor of the Coyotes, who have dropped three straight to start a six-game road trip, including a 3-2 loss in Brooklyn to the Islanders on Friday.
Backup goaltender Louis Domingue has been in net for all three losses with starter Mike Smith on the shelf with a left knee injury he suffered in the Coyotes' second game of the season. Domingue may get his fourth straight start Sunday, and enters the contest having allowed eight goals on his past 70 shots.
But coach Dave Tippett was non-committal after the loss to the Islanders.
“He made some good saves, some tough saves,” Tippett told the Arizona Republic. “But we'll re-evaluate after this game and see where we go on Sunday.”
The goaltending has been an issue but so has scoring. Through four games, depth players Brad Richardson and Jordan Martinook are tied for the team lead in goals and points with two and four, respectively. Meanwhile, talented forwards Max Domi, Anthony Duclair and Martin Hanzal have combined for one goal and two assists.
“I think we have to compete a little bit harder and get shots through the net, go back to the basic stuff because we're trying to make a lot of plays in sweet places and it doesn't work,” Hanzal told the Arizona Republic. “We have to get shots through to the net and bodies to the net. We haven't been doing that, and that's why we haven't scored enough goals.”
Getting more traffic and shots to the net may be difficult against the Rangers, who have held teams to an average of 24.6 shots per game, the fourth-best mark in the league.
“We have to find a way,” Hanzal said. “We have to turn this around, and it starts next game. Everybody has to chip in. Everybody has to be on the same page, and everybody — every single guy throughout the whole lineup — has to work hard every single night or we don't have a chance.”