Saturday, October 16, 2010

The home opener from Hell

A day has passed from yesterday's Ranger home opener. As much as I'm not feeling well with perhaps what happened in the game partially why along with a lot of other fun stuff I did, I'm still trying to digest the latest ugly loss- this one a wild one in overtime 4-3 to the undefeated Maple Leafs.

In only their third game while other teams are playing their sixth like the Devils as we type this, the Rangers looked disjointed much like the bizarre pregame festivities that reeked. After a good start that saw the apocalypse strike when Michal Rozsival shot the puck and scored 7:58 in, Toronto methodically took over. Maybe the tide turned when our second power play failed while I was still certain Ruslan Fedotenko tipped home Rozy's blast. Usually when you fail to capitalize on the man-advantage as John Tortorella's club didn't in five chances, it comes back to bite you. Especially with the Leafs' Phil Kessel winning it in overtime on a four-on-three with Marc Staal in the box for a questionable interference call that sent most fans home quietly.

Brandon Prust livened up the first period with an entertaining scrap with Toronto fourth line energizer Mike Brown, getting the takedown. Unfortunately, the main card never took place with Derek Boogaard and Colton Orr deciding to do it another day. After the one fight, the Leafs picked up their game. Using superior speed, they constantly got behind Ranger defenders for odd-man breaks. Henrik Lundqvist, who was sharp turning aside all 16 shots in the first, dealt with all sorts of chaos in one of the worst periods I've seen in quite a while. It was troubling. Ex-Sabre Clarke McCarthur knotted it at 2:04 when he was left all alone in front to steer home a Nikolai Kulemin shot that grazed the post. The Leafs continued to swarm using plenty of ugly turnovers to their advantage. Ironically, it was a softy Lundqvist let in when Mike Komisarek's unscreened bad angle floater snuck through for Toronto's first lead. Whether you want to excuse our franchise netminder who otherwise held up his end of the bargain, it was the kind of goal that can be deflating. He's already given up a few like that. Let's just leave it at that.

The next goal, there was little Lundqvist could do when an awful pinch by Staal led to a three-on-one with Tyler Bozak dishing across for Kessel for three unanswered goals in a 5:46 span. At that point, I would've used a timeout. Why Tort didn't I'll never comprehend. It got even worse when he lost his best player when Colby Armstrong boarded Marian Gaborik, who didn't return due to a separated shoulder which should keep him out between two to four weeks. A devastating blow this early. They also will be without captain Chris Drury, who again reinjured the broken left index finger due to a collision with Rozsival and is expected to miss at least six weeks. Oh. Even Vinny Prospal, who never got into exhibition needs surgery for the knee he had scoped last year. You can't make it up. Well, call it karma because last year's club was relatively healthy. Now, we'll see what they're made of.

Amazingly, the Rangers trailed only by two despite being outshot 30-12. The Leafs blew several power plays, including a dubious full two-minute 5-on-3 that had the crowd up in arms. By that point, Brian Boyle took it upon himself to do his best Superman impersonation. The fourth line center who impressed all camp with improved skating and finishing checks surprised Jean-Sebastien Giguere when his high wrister from 45 feet out eluded the former Duck netminder, making it 3-2 at 2:10. Remarkably, Boogaard assisted along with Steve Eminger with each unlikely contributor notching their first points.

With the Garden Faithful finally back into it, the refs took it upon themselves to try handing the game to Toronto. During a wild scramble for a loose puck that saw players collide with one of the officials who fell down drawing sarcastic cheers, at least two Rangers and Leafs piled up as they blew the play dead. While that madness was going on, behind the play Avery twice chopped Komisarek who dropped to the ice like he was dead yet this faker then skated off with a grin and didn't miss a shift. With Avery losing discipline for a slash combined with a dubious Fedotenko rough where no Leaf got anything, the game hung in the balance thanks to blind mice Chris Rooney and Francois StLaurent who all night missed blatant Leaf infractions. You would've believed the game was played at Air Canada Centre.

Somehow, the Blueshirts got the two-man advantage killed, envigorating The Garden. It didn't take long for Boyle to again play the hero when he picked up a Leaf gift and went five-hole on a stunned Giguere, recording his first multi-goal NHL game. Avery and Mike Del Zotto added helpers. As often happens, the home club took over, nearly going in front a few instances with narrow misses by Artem Anisimov, Ryan Callahan and Avery. With a jittery Derek Stepan struggling in his MSG debut, Tortorella shortened the bench sending out Anisimov's line and Boyle's a ton. Despite a short bench, the Rangers nearly won it late but Prust's redirect bid with seconds to go was cleared away.

Last season, the Rangers were one of the worst four-on-four teams in the league. Minus Gaborik and an MIA Alex Frolov who mailed another game in, they were no match for the Leafs, who really outclassed them most of the game. They still needed help and got it when Staal was sent off for interference. After killing the previous six, the penalty killers were exhausted and it finally resulted in Kessel going shortside for his second of the night on Lundqvist to make his team 4-for-4. Bozak and Tomas Kaberle drew assists.
A disappointing yet predictable ending on a night the Rangers simply weren't good enough. Especially Staal, who had a nightmarish game. He's supposed to be the team's defensive leader. Time to start earning that new paycheck.

The D as a whole stunk with Gilroy showing no impovement from last year in his debut. Dan Girardi's been the best thus far and that's not saying much. Del Zotto has a goal and two assists but has looked shaky defensively. And Rozsival, who scored is what he is. An overlooked booing target who logs important minutes, including some splendid PK work during the big kill in the third. But he can't play the point on the PP because of his reluctancy to shoot. He also is hit or miss defensively as one turnover demonstrated that Lundqvist bailed him out on in the first. As the 85th Anniversary cupcake shows above, the blueline will be the team's weakest link all season. It's going to be up to Henrik to keep them in games. Especially with no Gabby, Dru or Prosp. He's the leader of this team and must show it. So too must Callahan, Dubinsky, Staal and Girardi along with Rozsival. They're the holdovers from the last Ranger club that made the second round. You can't expect much from Avery whose four assists pace the club and somehow avoided suspension for the cheapshots at Komisarek.

Tortorella has indicated there won't be any call-ups from Hartford. Instead, Todd White and Erik Christensen should both be in the lineup Monday versus a good Colorado team that's off to a great start. It won't be no picnic. Boyle said this team won't put up with opponents' antics this time around. Here's their chance to prove it.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Tyler Bozak, Tor (2 assists, 10-5 draws in 20:17)
2nd Star-Brian Boyle, NYR (2 goals-1st two-goal NHL game, 3 SOG, 4 hits, +2 in 11:44)
1st Star-Phil Kessel, Tor (2 goals incl. PP OT winner at 3:08, assist, 7 SOG, +1 in 19:34)

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