It was only a matter of time before the Rangers hit a bump in the road after their fantastic start in the first five games; after all, no one’s perfect. The last three contests showed that even when things don’t necessarily go their way, the Blueshirts are all about winning and doing whatever it takes to get the job done.
Their first loss of the season came at home last Wednesday night against the undefeated Buffalo Sabres, when they demonstrated a lackluster effort, especially offensively. Apparently, the long trip overseas and the ensuing grueling schedule took a toll, even on the youngsters. Nobody had any jump that night.
On Friday night at MSG versus the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs, they looked better but ran into a ridiculous performance by Vesa Toskala. Regulation ended in a scoreless tie and both Toskala and Stephen Valiquette earned their pay. In the third frame, the Rangers threw everything at the net, hit a few posts and crossbars along the way, but couldn’t light the lamppost.
It wasn’t discouraging, but it was infuriating to see them buzz about the Maple Leafs net all night long and come up empty. But after another five minutes of scoreless action in the overtime, Valiquette won the shootout. It wasn’t a great effort by any means and they still didn’t exhibit the energy level of the opening five games, but the two points was well appreciated.
The following night in Detroit, the Rangers came out sleepwalking early but quickly recovered to play a high paced and spectacularly entertaining match with the Stanley Cup champion Red Wings. The problem was that facing the Wings in their arena and going toe to toe with them offensively was bad strategy. However, not only did they keep up with fast paced home team, they overcame the early hole and took a lead in the third period thanks to continued marvelous work by the second line, with Aaron Voros netting another two goals.
Unfortunately, a weak bench minor for two many men on the ice led to the game-tying power play goal late in the game and Detroit won it right away in the overtime when the Rangers looked unprepared deep in their zone. It was a bad way to end the game but the effort was there except for that very bad opening few minutes. In future engagements with teams such as the Red Wings, it would behoove them to tighten up especially in the neutral zone and prevent the opposition from easily entering into their defensive zone time and time again, regardless of the final outcome.
The coaching staff decided to break up the number one line as the combination of Chris Drury, Scott Gomez and Markus Naslund just wasn’t working out. Drury is mired in a terrible slump thus far and Naslund hasn’t figured it all out yet on the big New York stage. Gomez, who has been under the weather, has now just begun to show signs of life with his new partners, Ryan Callahan and Nigel Dawes. That line clicked in Detroit and it will be interesting to see how the chemistry will develop.
At 6-1-1, the league-leading Rangers are still atop the Eastern Conference; their 13 point total is four better than the second place Sabres. The schedule eases up for the Blueshirts after tonight, but first things first. The defensively woeful Dallas Stars, with the return of fan favorite Sean Avery, are featured tonight.