NEW YORK – They streamed into the building, 18,006 of them, with more than the normal amount of anticipation for the home opener. After last year’s run to the Stanley Cup Final, it isn’t just hope that permeates the walls of Madison Square Garden this year, it is belief.
That belief turned, for the night, into horror during a nightmare second period that saw the Rangers (1-2-0) give up five goals in a span of less than ten minutes en-route to their fifth-straight loss during a home opener, a 6-3 defeat to the Maple Leafs (1-2-0).
“I feel like once one thing happens to us now, we lose confidence and are playing on our heels,” said defenseman Dan Girardi, who was on the ice for four of Toronto’s six goals. “We’re not making the smart decisions, quick decisions on our toes.”
With the game tied, Phil Kessel opened the floodgates at 5:19 of the second, scoring after Cody Franson’s power play shot from the point was deflected in the slot. The nightmare didn’t end for nearly ten minutes, until David Clarkson sent Henrik Lundqvist to the showers at 15:13, giving the Maple Leafs a 6-2 lead.
“We just made it a little too easy for them to score their goals,” said Lundqvist, who allowed at least six goals in a game for just the 11th time in his career. “Part of that is that I have to be better. There’s a combination of things we just need to go over, I think.”
There’s belief around these parts because of what happened last year, when the Rangers came to within three wins of the Stanley Cup. That group galvanized around each other during the postseason. This team hasn’t quite gotten there yet.
“We just have to reevaluate this game and yesterday’s game and come together as a group and have some trust in each other and confidence in our game,” said Girardi.
“It was kind of one guy not [being] in sync with everyone,” said captain Ryan McDonagh, who struggled defensively against the Maple Leafs onslaught. “For us to be successful, we need everybody going and counting on everybody to do their role, knowing where everybody is on the ice. We have to get in sync here.”
“We’re still trying to find a little bit of our identity,” said forward Martin St. Louis. “We have a lot of new guys, and that’s a process. We’re going to keep working at it.”
This year, it’s a different group – seven skaters who didn’t play in the Cup Final took the ice against the Maple Leafs. It’s also a banged-up group, with top-line center Derek Stepan (fractured fibula) and second-pairing defenseman Dan Boyle (fractured hand) on long-term injured reserve.
“No one in our group wanted to perform the way we did tonight,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault. “After a pretty balanced first period, not quite sure what happened in the second. Every opportunity seemed to find the back of our net, and every opportunity seemed to be a Grade ‘A’ scoring chance. I don’t have a reason or an explanation for you right now. We obviously believe and know that we can perform a lot better than we did tonight.”
They got off to a quick start – literally – on Opening Night in St. Louis, before slipping on Saturday against the Blue Jackets, and falling off the map completely against a Maple Leafs team desperate for their first win of the season after two dispiriting efforts at Air Canada Centre to open their season.
“I don’t think we played up to our full potential in St. Louis, and got away with one,” McDonagh said. “We’ve learned the hard way here that it’s not good enough in this league to just get by with not being sharp 100% of the time. Teams are going to strike, execute, and be opportunistic if we give them a lot of looks.”
Rick Nash, who scored the Rangers’ first goal of the game off a pretty feed from St. Louis, left the game after the second period to be with his wife, who’s expecting the couple’s first child.
The Rangers allowed six goals in a game at Madison Square Garden for the second time this calendar year and for the 16th time since the 2004-05 lockout.
After killing off all nine penalties they took in the first two games, the Rangers penalty kill was 2-for-4.
Mats Zuccarello was scratched with an undisclosed injury. Kevin Hayes made his NHL debut, skating on the third line with J.T. Miller and Carl Hagelin. He skated a steady 14:17 in his debut.