Madison Square Garden rolled out the Blue Carpet for the unveiling of phase one of the renovation on the old barn. The pricer 100 and 200 sections looked great, concourses, seats’ site lines and all. However, the same could not be said about the upper tiered 300’s and 400’s. While it’s obvious the 100’s and 200’s are the Garden’s bread and butter and primary revenue stream, the 300 and 400 sections give the building it’s character.
It is ironic, then, that the current Rangers team mimics the renovation. The top six forwards and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist are their bread and butter and must carry the Rangers, but it is the third and fourth lines that must forge this current edition’s identity. If this team is to succeed, it will need a repeat of last season’s performance from Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust. Artem Anisimov must find some chemistry with Erik Christensen and Kris Newbury. But they did not get any of that in Thursday night’s home opener, and they paid the price.
Tonight’s Original Six match-up against the Maple Leafs started off well for the Rangers. To a man, they competed and challenged, winning all the individual battles. Marian Gaborik reminded many Ranger fans of the days when Jaromir Jagr could turn a game around with a single shift. At 6:23 of the first, Gaborik gained the zone off of a feed from Anisimov and drove hard to the net. Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson left a juicy rebound on Gaborik’s initial shot, and defenseman Dan Girardi pounced to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead. The Rangers had a season-high 16 shots in the first period, and headed to the locker room with a 1-0 lead. Also worth noting, two additional Ranger goals were also waved off due to contact with Gustavsson.
On a night where Ranger fans had banners and chants for Sean Avery , it is only fitting with Dion Phaneuf in the building that the comment that paved Sean’s return to the Rangers also suited the Rangers play in over the next 20 minutes. Indeed, the Rangers were very sloppy in the second stanza. The Rangers’ power play looked as almost confused as the fans trying to navigate the lower concourse for the first time.
For all intents and purposes, the Blueshirts stopped playing after the first period; to a man, the compete level just wasn’t there. Phil Kessel was stopped on two breakaways by Lundqvist, and after a sluggish start, the Leafs won virtually every shift from the second period on. The Rangers simply did not have an answer as the Leafs built a 4-1 lead. The Blueshirts got a late goal to cut the score to 4-2, but it was too little, too late.
Ryan Callahan talked about the difference in play from the first to the second period: “We just have to execute more, we have to make sure the pucks get in and make sure we turn our backs on the pucks once we get in the zone. I thought we did that in the first and I thought that’s why we had so many opportunities. Obviously we were excited in the first period, I mean you’re going to be excited coming home in your own building. We have to follow that up in the second and the third, and we didn’t do that”
Marian Gaborik echoed that sentiment: “We were very excited to play, we came out really strong and then I’m not sure what happened. We gave them a lot of room, especially in the neutral zone. They had a lot of speed, they had a lot of odd man rushes, and we just stopped playing in their end with the puck. We didn’t generate a lot of shots over the last 40 minutes, we have to play a full 60 minutes.”
John Tortorella had his own theory as to the difference in play: “I think you get juiced just coming back home playing in front of your crowd and a lot of things going on around us… After they scored their first goal, we struggled, we struggled with our energy and we struggled making passes as a team. It was not just one player, (the first) was probably our best period of the year and then from then on it went downhill.”
The Rangers need to look at everything they did right in the first period and build from there.
“We have to find some good stuff, I think the team understands where we are, as a club right now,” Tortorella continued. “I think we did some good things as far as having the puck and forechecking in the first period, but we have to be more consistent over the next forty. Little by little we need to get better, it’s not going to happen overnight I don’t think, but we have to try to regain some confidence and that’s by just taking small steps here and getting better as a team.”
Phase one of Madison Square Gardens transformation is complete. The Rangers now need to transform one good period into three on Saturday .