Ranger’s Season Opening Loss Highlighted by Slow start; Poor Play in Own End

Anders Lee of the New York Islanders celebrates the first of his two goals — Bruce Bennet USA

It was a night many Ranger fans had been eagerly anticipating following the deflating sweep at the hands of the Carolina Hurricanes in early August. However, collective excitement quickly transitioned to disappointment as the New York Islanders, playing with the same poise that took them to Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals last season, took advantage of the Ranger’s sloppy and incoheisve play, spoiling the debuts of Alexis Lafrenière and K’Andre Miller.

For the Rangers, the game opened with aggression. Aggression which led to mistakes, the first of which came from Jack Johnson, whose signing this offseason elicited much criticism from Ranger fans. Jack Johnson’s net front battle with Anders Lee at 1:49 of the first period produced a holding penalty, and on the power play, an Anthony Beauvillier slap shot deflected off Adam Fox’s skate and into the slot, where Brock Nelson would fire it home.

Following the game, Chris Kreider would call the goal “a bit of a bad bounce.” Kreider continued to say that “We can’t let [the goal] get us down and let the game get away from us like it did. That’s a very difficult team to play when you’re down. We just got away from our gameplan.”

Two minutes after the Brock Nelson goal, K’andre Miller found himself defending a two-on-one against Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle. Miller made the correct defensive play in defending against a pass, but Anders Lee took the shot which found the back of the net after deflecting off goaltender Igor Shesterkin’s glove.

The final goal of the first period came on another odd-man rush, and was the result of another Jack Johnson mistake. With 6:34 remaining in the period, Johnson received a pass from Tony DeAngelo, and in attempt to dump the puck into the offensive zone, hit the linesman. The puck deflected to Cal Clutterbuck who sprung Matt Barzal, who after making an inside-outside move on DeAngelo, roofed the puck over the right shoulder of Shesterkin–a goal which he would probably like to have back.

Following the first period, the Rangers played better hockey. They continued to take penalties, accruing 3 more in the second period, but looked sharp on the penalty kill — killing 6 out of 8 over the course of the game. However, any hopes of a comeback were put to rest when with 10:45 remaining in the second period, a Brendan Lemieux backhand shot appeared to have been covered by Islander net-minder Semyon Varlamov. Varlamov did not have control of the puck, and Jacob Trouba shot the loose puck through Varlamov. The play was reviewed, and it was determined that Trouba’s shot did not cross the goal line prior to the whistle.

With just over five minutes remaining in the second period, Anders Lee scored his second goal of the game.

In the final frame of the game, the Rangers looked more structured, but not more disciplined. Tony DeAngelo took a very unnecessary holding penalty, and received 2 extra penalty minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct. Much like in the prior 40 minutes of play, the Rangers chances were few and far between, although Shesterkin, following a poor start to the game, made some terrific saves to prevent further damage.

The game would end 4-0 in favor of the Islanders, who out-shot the Rangers 33 to 24.

“We didn’t play fast enough,” Rangers coach David Quinn said following the loss. “We didn’t use our skating to our advantage. Every time we get a puck, we sort of look to see who we can pass it to on the other side of the ice. That approach doesn’t work against anybody, let alone the Islanders.”

When asked on his thoughts about how Lafrenière looked in his NHL debut, Coach Quinn said “he played with a confidence. He was not intimidated by the big stage. He had swagger, which is a good thing. I just thought he did some good things as the night went on. It’s tough when you get behind.”

Lafrenière admitted to feeling “a lot of nerves” in an interview after the game, but Lafrenière largely looked comfortable in his first NHL game, registering 1 shot on goal in 15:21 of ice time along with making some creative passes.

In this same interview, Miller discussed his thoughts and reflections on his debut: “the National Hockey League is a tough league to win in. This first game is a great example of that — every game’s going to be a battle, and you have to play the full 60 minutes.”

While this certainly was not the debuts Ranger fans were hoping for when envisioning the night in their heads, I cannot think of a better way to expose Lafrenière and Miller to the rigor and intensity of the NHL. This game should serve as a wake-up call to the Rangers, and should show them that if they do not commit to making adjustments and playing better in their own end — losses like this will be the result. 6 out of the 8 teams in the division that the Rangers find themselves in made the playoffs last season. In a shortened season, there is little room for error.

The Rangers play the Islanders again Saturday, and I expect a better result.

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(Featured Image Credit: Bruce Bennett — USA Today)


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