Hartnett: Rangers Can’t Let Brutal Start Spiral Into Gaping Hole
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By Sean Hartnett
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There isn’t a reasonable excuse for the scatterbrained and sloppy performance put forth by the Rangers in their home opener at Madison Square Garden.
Simply put, the Rangers were ugly. Real ugly. The only evidence that this team is less than a year removed from an Eastern Conference Finals appearance was the classic diagonal red and white “R-A-N-G-E-R-S” across the front of their jerseys.
Fix it now or pay the price — that will be the message head coach John Tortorella will deliver to his team before they hit the practice ice in preparation for Wednesday’s Original Six meeting with the Boston Bruins.
“The details of the game have to get cleaned up,” assistant captain Brad Richards stated after the Rangers’ 6-3 defeat.
How we play and how this team has played in the least couple of years, it’s not there yet.”
It wasn’t just one thing that went wrong. Everything went wrong. You would have to reach for extreme positives to hang your hat on any of the Rangers’ three goals or the steadying play of backup goaltender Martin Biron, who came in relief of an overwhelmed Henrik Lundqvist.
Rick Nash looked the most threatening of all the Rangers. He forced Penguins backup net-minder Tomas Vokoun into making five saves, and his third-period shorthanded goal gave spectators a small measure of consolation to take home with them. At least they had witnessed Nash’s first goal as a Ranger on the Garden ice.
Nash wasn’t taking away positives. Nobody inside the Rangers’ locker room was searching for a silver lining. Nash felt that the Rangers’ battle level was lacking.
“It wasn’t enough tonight,” he said. “There were glimpses of it throughout points of the game, but in this league you have to put it together for 60 minutes if you want to win games.”
The Rangers’ newest star forward will give fans plenty to smile about as the season goes on, but he can’t cure the Rangers’ woeful power play on his own. It’s going to take a whole lot of work to fix a long-standing issue that has lingered into 2013.
Against the Bruins on Saturday, the Rangers put up a goose egg on the power play — going 0-for-5. Their power play wasn’t must better on home ice, as the Blueshirts only converted 1-of-7 power play opportunities. Ryan Callahan jammed home the Rangers’ only power play goal of the season on a two-man advantage in the first period.
Take a peek in the Penguins’ locker room and you’ll find an assured group that stuck to their plan and had the killer instinct needed to send an early message to a talented Rangers team.
“We did a good job of wearing down their defense in the first and second,” Penguins winger James Neal explained. “That’s the way we like to play. When we get out to an early lead, we want to keep it. We want to keep the pressure on. We seemed to do that all night.”
Neal and Evgeni Malkin have the kind of chemistry that has been formed over years of practice drills and a consistent pairing on the powerful Penguins’ second line. It’s something the new-look Rangers are largely lacking.
The Rangers’ absence of defensive coordination allowed Malkin huge passing lanes to work his magic. Malkin racked up three assists with ease. It must’ve been like shooting fish in a barrel for the reining Hart Trophy winner.
“The execution wasn’t there,” Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said. “The little passes, the details that get us out of our end zone quickly and not hemmed in, weren’t there. We were just a little disjointed and it took us a while to get the puck back, and when we did we were too tired to make any plays with it.”
The Blueshirts have recorded back-to-back stinkers against Eastern Conference heavyweights and cannot allow this to spiral into something bigger, especially against in-division foes like the Penguins. Given the shortened 48-game season and importance placed on divisional play, they better grab their shovels and start digging themselves out right away.
“There’s a lot of mistakes out there that we have to correct and it’s a short season, so we’ve got to correct them fast,” Nash stated.
How concerned are you about the Rangers’ poor start and sloppy play? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.