Well it’s just one game out of 82. Amirite?
The Rangers opened the season (or was that still the pre-season?) against the Coyotes in Arizona last night with a 4-1 drubbing.
Brett Hull Radim Vrbata popped a hat trick against the Blueshirts in game one of the Alain Vigneault era and the Ranger defense looked very sloppy in their own end.
We get it. We get it. You all hated playing for Torts, but Jeebus Creebus, how about paying just a little bit of mind to the defensive zone coverage.
Although the game eventually became an ugly loss, there were basically two and a half positives to come out of last night. Plus a click of good as well.
Firstly, Marc Staal looked great. He absolutely sniped a power play goal over Team Canada Olympic goalie (mark it down now) Mike Smith and didn’t show any effects of his career-threatening eye injury.
Secondly, Rick Nash dropped the mitts and threw down with Martin Hanzal. The big guy, who looked a little rusty in the pugilism department stood up for his teammate Derek Stepan, after Step was plastered along the wall in the game’s closing minutes by Hanzal. Though not much of a fight, the fact that Nash came to Step’s aid is huge and will go a long way towards team togetherness. These guys were often too terrified of Torts to do this under his watch and it often led to the NYR being pushed around. The downside of Nash throwing is that it highlights just how soft the Rangers are. Derek Dorsett will fight (and often lose) with anyone, but after the red-headed brawler there isn’t much else. Sadly, DD is the full extent of the Rangers nastiness on a squad who possess no intimidating presences at all.
The half positive is that although 1-4, the power play did look better. The players moved their feet and moved the puck and also shot the puck which was a stark contrast from last year’s 23rd ranked unit.
Finally, the positive click was that Brad Richards who was two clicks above useless last season, was actually three clicks above useless playing on the wing with Stepan and Nash. The 6.7 million dollar man actually connected some passes and had a good one-timer that Smith gloved. But we aren’t expecting much from B-Rich this year and project him to dip back to two clicks above useless soon enough.
The season opener got off to a blazing start in the blazing Glendale heat. The pace was excellent and the NYR didn’t appear overmatched, in the first period. Phoenix got the stanza’s only marker when Oliver Ekman-Larsson picked Derek Stepan’s pocket in the Rangers zone sending the puck behind the net to Rob Klinkhammer. Kyle Chipchura buried a pass from Klinkhammer in the slot and the Yotes had the early lead.
The Blueshirts evened the score early in the second, and on the power play no less. Step hit Nash on the rush in the high slot and the big guy drew two Pheonix defenders and dished off to Marc Staal speeding down the left wing (Safe is Death, right Coach?) and Staal lasered one blocker-side high over Smith.
Minutes later after the expiry of a John Moore hooking penalty, the Rangers got sloppy in their own end and couldn’t get exhausted penalty killers Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi off the ice. As the Coyotes buzzed the net, Vrbata picked up a loose puck and notched his first of the game for a 2-1 lead.
Early in the third, Vrbata scored again, this time on the power play. With Girardi in the box for an overly-aggressive roughing penalty, Vrbata cranked a point shot by Henrik Lundqvist that appeared to be tipped by Staal in front for the 3-1 advantage. Vrabata completed the hat trick at 12:37 when he pilfered the puck from a lazy Nash behind the Rangers goal and forced home a rebound for the hat trick, bringing a rain of baseball caps on the ice and the echo of a wounded dog throughout the arena.
While this wasn’t a total disaster for the Blueshirts, it was ugly. Smith was excellent in net, but the Rangers really didn’t have that many good chances. The big goalie stopped what should have been a back door slam in the first by Benoit Pouliot off pretty passes from Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello. For good measure Smith even stopped Zuccarello’s jab at the loose rebound of Pouilot’s chance. However the Rangers didn’t take many shots (24) but they did take many penalties (4.) Hank didn’t look terrible, but certainly didn’t look great, ore even really good. That may be a problem this year, because with the Rangers D flying the zone and blowing off coverage, he is going to have to be outstanding nearly every night.
1 down, 81 to go.
Let’s go Rangers!