Early Season Adversity Confronts Blue Shirts
It was a game to forget for the Rangers and their fans Friday night as the Blue Shirts dropped their home opener to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Not only did the team get severely outplayed by the Leafs but 2 of their key forwards (Marian Gaborik and Chris Drury) were forced to leave due to injury. At the end of the evening the Rangers were lucky to even come away with a point but somehow they did.
After opening with a ceremony commemorating the start of their 85th season, the Rangers struck first when a weak wrist shot by Michael Rozsival sneaked through several players and by Leafs’ goalie Jean-Sebastian Giguere.
The Rangers were outshot 16 – 7 in the opening period yet were still ahead on the scoreboard.
Ruslan Fedotenko recorded an assist on Rozsival’s goal and in doing so scored his first point as a Ranger.
Period 2 was completely dominated by the Leafs who outshot the Blue Shirts 14 – 5. Toronto netted 3 goals. Clarke MacArthur scored his league leading 5th to knot the game at one. The equalizer was scored just 4 seconds after a cross-checking penalty to Chris Drury expired.
Mike Komisarek put the Leafs up with his first of the season. Phil Kessel got the only assist on the goal; his first point in what would turn out to be a nice evening for the Leafs’ winger.
Speaking of Kessel, he netted his 3rd of the season 7:50 into the 2nd period. The Leafs scored all 3 goals in less than 6 minutes.
The Rangers would close the gap just 2:10 into the 3rd on a wrister from Brian Boyle. Boyle released his shot from just inside the blue line but it somehow managed to beat Giguere. Derek Boogaard and Steve Eminger assisted in both recording their first Ranger points.
The ensuing few minutes got ugly. After Fedotenko took a brain-dead holding/tackling/roughing penalty of the Leafs Colby Armstrong that negated a Ranger PP, Sean Avery delivered 2, two-handed slashes to the ankles of Komisarek during a scrum. In the span of a few seconds, the Rangers went from having a PP to being a man down. Worse yet, due to the 2nd penalty to Avery, the Blue Shirts were faced with the prospect of having to kill off a 50-second, 2-man Leafs advantage.
The odd thing about Avery’s stupid penalty was that it seemed to fire up the Rangers. They easily killed off the PP opportunities and ended up tying the game on Brian Boyle’s 2nd goal. There was a palpable change in the club and it began with Avery’s penalty.
I’m sure Giguere would love to take back Boyle’s 2nd goal. The puck was in behind the net and Giguere seemed to lose site of it. He retreated deep into his own net while trying to locate the puck behind him. Meanwhile, Avery found Boyle in front and he beat a confused Giguere with the tying marker.
Komisarek then took a cross-checking call when he tried to gain a measure of retribution against Avery. This almost proved disastrous for the Leafs as the Rangers nearly took the lead on a shot from rookie Derek Stepan. The shot clanked off the post and the Leafs avoided a monumental choke-job.
The game would go to OT where with roughly 2:00 left, Marc Staal took a bad interference penalty when he hip-checked Tim Brent after the puck slid past both players. The call was somewhat controversial as it appeared at regular speed the puck was still near Brent. The replay showed it was well past Brent and Staal so the penalty was justified.
Kessel would give the Leafs the win on the resulting PP scoring his 2nd of the game with under 2:00 left in OT.
I will say the Leafs looked very good. They were faster than the Rangers for much of the game. For the most part the club avoided the defensive miscues they were guilty of so much last season. Giguere didn’t look too good in net but has helped the club overall by providing solid play in net. Toronto deserved to win this game and it was by sheer luck the Rangers even got it to OT.
On to Avery again; I have been a staunch defender of his for most of his Ranger career. He’s an effective player when he’s playing his game. He talks a lot of smack but usually stays away from the injurious cheap shots that many other of the NHL’s most hated men (Jarkko Ruutu and Matt Cooke come to mind) engage in. However, I find it tough to excuse his actions Friday night.
For one he hurt his team by putting them down a man. Two, they were blatantly cheap shots with intent to hurt. Anytime you take a full windup, two-handed slash at the ankles of an opponent your mindset is clear. You’re trying to hurt the other player.
Why his actions seemed to spark the Rangers after that is a mystery. I can only speculate and perhaps it had nothing to do with Avery or his actions. The fact the Blue Shirts amped up their effort immediately following Avery’s incident isn’t reason to ignore that it was a cheap shot.
Avery wasn’t suspended and that’s a good thing for Ranger faithful because the club lost star F Marian Gaborik and F Chris Drury to injury during the game. Drury was making his season debut after recovering from a broken finger. Unfortunately he broke the same finger in a different spot and is now expected to miss 6 weeks.
Gaborik was injured on a boarding penalty to Armstrong. I don’t think Armstrong was trying to intentionally hurt Gabby but he certainly was guilty of the penalty. Gabby suffered a shoulder separation and is expected to miss 2 – 3 weeks.
In Gabby’s absence it is imperative that Alex Frolov get it going offensively. He only has 1 assist through 3 games but is the most skilled forward on the roster minus Gabby. Brandon Dubinsky, who had 3 goals through the first 2 games could also help out offensively.
Regardless, the Rangers are facing some early season adversity and will need a solid team effort to avoid falling in the standings. The Rangers probably aren’t talented enough to come back from a big early season deficit in the standings if they want to be a playoff team.
The Blue Shirts host another good young team as the Colorado Avalanche come to town for a Monday night contest. I expect Todd White to skate in his first game of the season with the losses of Gabby and Drury. As of yesterday it didn’t look like Erik Christensen will be able to go so a call-up of Dale Weise or Mats Zuccarello-Aasen is possible. I also suspect Gilroy will remain in the lineup in place of Mike Sauer on the 3rd defense pair.