All of the pre-game talk Saturday centered around Alain Vigneault's first game against the team he coached the previous seven years and John Tortorella's return to Madison Square Garden. Once the game started, though, the focus was squarely on hockey where the Rangers new-look first line and Cam Talbot's strong Garden debut in goal stole the headlines in the Rangers 5-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks.
Vigneault changed personnel on all four of his forward lines, and made three adjustments to his lineup Saturday following Friday's disappointing 3-2 loss in Boston. The Rangers bench boss lined up Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan, and Rick Nash on the team's top line Saturday and that three some responded by scoring four goals while totaling eight points. Kreider led the way with three goals---the first Hat Trick of his NHL career; Nash recorded a goal and two assists; and Stepan notched a pair of helpers.
Michael Del Zotto, who returned to the lineup after being a healthy scratch the previous two games---and in five of the last eight---scored a power play goal, making Vigneault's decision to scratch John Moore in favor of Del Zotto look to be a wise one. Derek Dorsett was also back in the lineup after missing two games with a sore wrist, taking the spot of veteran Taylor Pyatt.
Perhaps Vigneault's wisest decision was to give Talbot the first Madison Square Garden start of his young career. Talbot, who has now won six straight starts overall and is 6-1-0 on the season as Henrik Lundqvist's backup, made a career-high 35 saves, while displaying his trademark calm and cool demeanor throughout. The 26 year-old Talbot has yet to allow more than two goals in any of his seven starts this season.
Kreider, who struggled under Tortorella last year, showed his former coach a thing or two by scoring twice in the first period to give the Rangers a 2-0 lead. He opened the scoring at 12:37, beating Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo with a hard wrist shot from between the circles after Nash had feathered a soft pass on his stick while absorbing a hard hit on right wing. Kreider then doubled the Rangers advantage by scoring a power play goal at 16:54--deflecting Ryan McDonagh's right wing pass up and over Luongo.
Nash made it 3-0 Rangers just 17 seconds into the second period, knocking Luongo out of the game in the process. Luongo surrendered three goals on ten shots after Nash tipped Stepan's shot from the slot into the cage for his fourth goal of the season, and third in the last three games.
Del Zotto earned a measure of redemption at 11:04 when he blasted a slap shot through a Ryan Callahan screen for the Rangers second power play goal of the afternoon to make it 4-0. Mats Zuccarello and Derick Brassard earned the assists after a pretty back and forth passing sequence which concluded with Zuccarello's right wing to left pass to an open Del Zotto, who recorded his second goal of the season.
Meanwhile at the other end of the ice Talbot was quietly and effectively stopping everything shot his way by the Canucks, who fired 14 shots on goal in the opening period and another 11 in the second stanza. He lost his bid for a third consecutive shutout when David Booth got in behind the Rangers defense and slipped a shot between Talbot's pads with 4:10 to play in the middle period.
That goal by Booth also snapped the Rangers team shutout mark of 157 minutes 14 seconds against Vancouver dating to November 3, 2009. In their previous two contests against the Canucks, the Blueshirts had shut out Vancouver 4-0 and 1-0, with Lundqvist backstopping both victories.
Kreider scored his third goal of the game, and sixth of the season, 9:38 into the third period when he stood in front of Canucks back up goalie Eddie Lack and deflected Anton Stralman's shot past him, with the hats soon after raining down on the ice and Tortorella---hands in pockets---grimacing behind the Canucks bench.
With 16 points (6-10-16) in 20 games to date Kreider is now the second leading point producer among all rookies in the NHL, trailing only San Jose's Tomas Hertl who has 21 points in 25 games.
Daniel Sedin potted a power play goal on a rebound in front with Kreider in the penalty box and 2:35 to play to close out the scoring.
Saturday's game marked the beginning of a stretch in which the Rangers will play 11 of 12 games on home ice. They will next face the Winnipeg Jets Monday night at The Garden.