NEW YORK – Wins and losses are important – that goes without saying. And if the Rangers don’t start picking up wins soon, well, it’s going to get late awfully early for first-year Rangers’ coach Alain Vigneault and his players.
But despite their 2-0 loss to Montreal (7-5-0) in New York’s home opener at sparkling re-opened Madison Square Garden, there is reason to be optimistic. As currently on the ice, this is a poor offensive team. But that’s because of all the talent missing. And the reinforcements are coming.
Carl Hagelin (offseason shoulder surgery) is eligible and likely to return from long-term injury reserve Tuesday at the Islanders. While Rick Nash (concussion) is out indefinitely, captain Ryan Callahan (broken thumb) has resumed skating, and could be less than two weeks from returning.
But right now, it’s a challenge offensively. The Rangers (3-7-0) had limited Grade ‘A’ chances in their latest-by-date home opener since the 1947-48 season. While systemically they did some good things, they were just unable to finish their chances against Canadiens backup goaltender Peter Budaj (27 saves, 11th career shutout).
“We’re doing a lot of the right things,” Vigneault said. “We had net-presence. Every time we took a shot, we had people converging to the net trying to win the battle in front of their net. Give them credit, they did a good job of protecting their goaltender, and their goaltender did a good job controlling the rebounds.”
“The last few games we’ve done a nice job getting some offensive zone time,” said defenseman Marc Staal. “We just haven’t been able to connect and make enough happen around their net to get one by him. Traffic, crashing the net, we need to find a way to bang a couple in. Can’t win a game without scoring goals.”
Still, there is reason to be optimistic. The first goal the Rangers allowed on Monday was with the Canadiens on the man advantage, as Tomas Plekanec broke in on Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist (25 saves), who returned after missing two games with a mystery injury. But aside from that and a controversial goal with 2:51 remaining and the Rangers pushing for the equalizer, the Blueshirts were much improved in their own end.
As compared to their first 5 games, when they were outscored 25-9, they’ve allowed 10 goals in their last 5 games.
“Defensively it hasn’t been an issue,” Vigneault said. “We’ve been getting good goaltending, and support from the five players on the ice. We’re generating a sufficient amount of chances to get more offense than what we’re getting right now. Right now we’re having a tough time finding the back of the net, but I don’t think it’s from a lack of possession or a lack of things that permit you to do it.”
The problem is, they’ve only scored six goals in their last five games, and a total of 15 in ten regular season games. And while they have a much better understanding of Vigneault’s defensive system, it won’t mean anything unless the team can finish its chances.
“Especially considering it’s the home opener – guys were so excited,” said Chris Kreider, who skated 17:43, and may have been the Rangers best skater. “There was an energy in the room, the effort was there, same effort as Detroit if not more so. We learned from that game, and we got better, but we didn’t get the result we wanted.
The Rangers were shut-out in their home opener for the first time since 1998-99, a 1-0 loss to the Flyers.
To make room for the likely return of Hagelin, the Rangers sent Jesper Fast to Hartford (AHL) after the game.
The Canadiens’ second goal was scored by Alex Galchenyuk, who appeared to direct the puck into the net using his skate. After a review from the NHL office in Toronto, it was determined to be a legal goal, which clearly frustrated Lundqvist.
“If that’s not a kick, I don’t know what a kick is,” Lundqvist said. “Seriously, there needs to be some sort of consistency in the calls. I think that’s a kick. That’s my opinion. It’s just a frustrating goal there that kind of kills the whole game and it is what it is. It would be very interesting to hear their explanation for it just to know moving forward what the rule really is.”