Ten games played is a small sample, but they form the first benchmark of an NHL season. After 10 games last season, the Rangers were 5-4-1. After beating the Calgary Flames, 4-1, at Madison Square Garden Sunday night, the Rangers are 6-2-2, on pace for about 112 points.
The sixth win started as a slow grind, with the Blueshirts sluggish after Saturday's 3-2 rugged shootout loss in Philadelphia.
Midway through the second period, the Rangers had only nine total shots on goaltender Jonas Hiller and trailed 1-0 on Jiri Hudler's goal at 3:06 of the first.
Passes failed to connect. Pucks weren't cleared. Shot attempts were wide, high and not often enough, either at even strength or the power play. The crowd was restless; after all, the Flames had won two of seven games.
Antti Raanta, making his second start in goal as a Ranger, had to stop a shorthanded breakaway by Mikael Berglund to keep the score within one.
But somehow, through the fog they were playing in, and with a little bit of luck, the Rangers tied the score on a nice backhand pass from behind the net by Kevin Hayes to Oscar Lindberg in front. Lindberg's quick wrister hit defenseman Dougie Hamilton's leg and went in at 12:03. It was the Swedish rookie's team-leading fifth of the season and the first of four unanswered Rangers goals.
"It wasn't pretty at times, but Raanta made some big saves to keep us in the game at times, we got a couple goals to give ourselves the lead going into the third period and locked it down from there," Dan Girardi said. "We're pretty happy with the first 10 games but there's definitely room to improve."
The second goal, also from in close and deflected, came from Girardi, who was at the lower right circle and took a pass from Emerson Etem and fired. The low shot bounced up past Hiller at 16:57. Not only was it Girardi's first goal of the season, it was the first assist for Etem, who was playing because of Viktor Stalberg's head injury sustained in Philadelphia. Etem, obtained from the Anaheim Ducks in the trade for Carl Hagelin, had played in one game at Montreal on Oct. 15.
The third period turned out to be the Blueshirts' sharpest and strongest. Kevin Klein's unassisted second goal of the season, at 8:38, upped it to 3-1. After a save on Keith Yandle, Klein's shot looked as if were going wide, but it hit Deryk Engelland in the knee and caromed in. Derick Brassard's third goal, a wrister 1:48 later, doused the Flames and chased Hiller.
Raanta (22 saves), who also stopped all 22 shots in shutting out San Jose in his Rangers debut on Oct. 19 at the Garden, came from the Blackhawks in a swap for forward Ryan Haggerty after the Blueshirts sent backup Cam Talbot to Edmonton.
Sunday night, he didn't allow a goal after the first shot on net. Marc Staal's turnover had allowed Johnny Gaudreau in close to feed the open Hudler; Raanta had no chance.
"[Our defensemen] are starting to see more of how I play, how I play the puck, and I see how they want the puck," Raanta said. "We weren't there early in the game and got better and better."
Notes & quotes: Stalberg, who was KO'd by a hit to the jaw from Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas in the final minute of the second period Saturday and left with a head injury, is "feeling better," Alain Vigneault said, and is considered day-to-day. There was no penalty called on Gudas. Stalberg, signed as a free agent last summer, has a goal and three assists . . . Rangers are 4-1 against Western Conference teams.