New York Post
Rangers off to sloppy season start
MAYBE the preseason schedule, in which the Rangers packed six games into nine days so they could be done with it all by Sept. 26, wasn’t quite the panacea represented by head coach Alain Vigneault.
Because in evaluating his own game as a tepid “all right’ after surrendering three goals on the first 18 shots he faced in the Blueshirts’ empty-net-abetted 4-2 defeat in Thursday’s opening night at the Garden, Henrik Lundqvist was asked whether it had taken him some time to become acclimated to the increase in tempo from the exhibition season to this.
“No, it isn’t that,” said Lundqvist, beaten on a rebound, a power play one-timer from the right circle and a low right-circle wrister to stick side from late man Tyson Barrie at 17:50 of the second period that broke a 2-2 tie. “It’s more that it was my first game in 10 days.
“I didn’t expect to feel perfect, but I was more and more comfortable as the game went on.”
The Rangers surely could have won this one. They outshot Colorado 39-26 and cobbled together a number of close-in chances against Semyon Varlamov, who seemed unsteady and unsure much of the night, but managed to make a handful of impressive point-blank saves when the game appeared there for the home team’s taking.
“I know, but you have to give him credit,” J.T. Miller said. “It seemed like they were kind of hanging on, but he made the stops when they needed him.”
It’s funny, though. Even with the 39 shots — 15 of which were generated in 9:53 of power-play time — the Rangers never seemed sharp or crisp. They didn’t build shift-to-shift momentum in a match featuring just 42:49 of fiveon-five play. Indeed, both of their goals came on the power play within a 2:30 span late in the second period, and both were scored by Mika Zibanejad.
The Blueshirts were sloppy without the puck in the neutral zone and on a few rush reads and coverages. That cost them dearly when Matt Duchene slipped home a rebound for a 1-0 lead at 5:29 of the first, and then again when Barrie beat Lundqvist for the eventual winner. And they were choppy with the puck, with too many passes going unaccountably awry.
“I think we can clean up our game in the neutral zone and cut down the number of turnovers,” said Kevin Shattenkirk, who was smooth on the power-play point in leading the Rangers with 23:38 of ice time, but also was minusthree despite a 67-percent Corsi (16/8). “It definitely was not my best game. I can be better in my gap control, for one.”
Shattenkirk, who has embraced the challenge of playing for his hometown team and who has shrugged off the burden of having signed a free-agent contract worth $6.65 million per, said that on his way to the bench after his first few shifts, “I kind of realized where I was playing, which was cool. But after the first, it went away and was just another game.”
Filip Chytil, the 18-year-old got just 1:54 in the third period — one brief shift over the final 11:07 — and only 7:40 overall. But that’s going to be close to the norm for any player who doesn’t play on either specialty team when five-onfive is so limited. The neophyte had one golden moment, breaking in two-on-one with Mats Zuccarello 1:55 into the match, but his attempted feed from the left was tipped away.
This wasn’t only the team’s first game, it was Vigneault’s first go behind the bench with this remodeled group that will create some vexing deployment decisions for the coach.
For instance, Shattenkirk, who has a 57 percent career offensive zone faceoff number, paired with Ryan McDonagh, who has a 54.6 percent defensive start number. In this one, the top pair got three ozone draws and four in the d-zone.
Tony DeAngelo, who had a strong game paired with Marc Staal, got a total of 2:03 of penalty killing time in 39 games last year for the Coyotes. He was on for 2:00 of shorthanded play by the end of the second period.
There is, of course, going to be some trial and error here, but the fact is the Rangers aren’t likely to broker too much of the latter. Remember, they rode to the playoffs off a 14-2-2 start two years ago and a 13-4 start last year. With the Maple Leafs coming up Saturday, they could be looking at 0-2 before you know it.
But then, Saturday will be Lundqvist’s second game in three days.