The effort was certainly there. But the finishing still was lacking in the Rangers’ 2-1 shootout loss to the Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre in new coach John Tortorella’s debut.
Old habits die hard. There’s a reason the former Lightning coach took over the NHL’s worst offensive team and it was on display again despite a much more aggressive style that generated plenty of chances.
Most encouraging was the improved play of Wade Redden, who scored the only goal breaking a 58-game drought when he whistled a slap shot through traffic past Vesa Toskala for a power play goal putting the Rangers in front at 10:26 of the second.
The 31 year-old former Senator who has been a bust till this point was much more active jumping up in the play while playing steadily in his end teamed with other underachiever Michal Rozsival, who picked up an assist on his third as did tormented captain Chris Drury.
Though they outplayed and outshot the Leafs significantly (24-12) thru two periods, the Rangers couldn’t increase their lead against a razor sharp Toskala, who finished with 31 saved to help his team to a comeback victory- allowing Toronto to take the season series for the first time since 2003-04.
Under Tortorella, the Rangers didn’t sit back in the third continuing to press forward with lots of pinching from new look D pair Marc Staal and Dan Girardi who both looked good. Each certainly had opportunities to score as did Drury, who was setup by Nikolai Zherdev with a chance to go up two but stoned by Toskala with the rebound going by his stick.
That’s the kind of season it’s been for Drury who now is in a career worst 16-game goal drought. His effort was much better as well taking the body while working effectively with Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan. Tortorella also moved guys around also trying Dubinsky with Scott Gomez when Zherdev and Markus Naslund weren’t together.
The lack of finishing came back to haunt the Blueshirts as a more aggressive Toronto team got the equalizer when Niklas Hagman beat Staal to a loose puck and then came out and fired topshelf past Henrik Lundqvist for his 19th with 9:39 left in regulation. He scored the winner Sunday night at MSG ending Tom Renney’s reign behind the bench. Mikhail Grabovski and rookie Nikolai Kulemin netted assists.
Despite neither team sitting back, each couldn’t score taking the contest to overtime. Interestingly enough, the Leafs spent the final shift attacking the Rangers with Dom Moore, Jason Blake and Nik Antropov buzzing. However, a make shift line anchored by defensive minded Blair Betts never budged allowing their team to get a valuable point.
The Rangers came close to winning it in OT when Dubinsky got behind the Leaf D but somehow didn’t manage a shot instead opting for a wraparound attempt which was foiled. Next time, just shoot!
Somehow, the refs saw fit to call Ryan Callahan for goalie interference when he was clearly pushed into Toskala. The other night, it was a tacky call on Betts which resulted in the Leaf winner. This time with 2:28 left, the Rangers again had to kill off a garbage call.
Thanks to some aggressive penalty killing including from Rozsival and Staal, the Rangers killed it even getting a chance to win when Staal and Betts came in two-on-one. But Staal’s centering pass for Betts was missed due to an excellent backcheck from Blake.
Perhaps it was fitting that the game went to a shootout where so many have this season. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a good omen when Kulemin deked Lundqvist going forehand stick side to give Toronto the only goal they’d need.
Tortorella went with Naslund, Drury and Zherdev. Naslund came the closest but his backhand which got through Toskala just deflected wide. After Lundqvist foiled Hagman’s backhand, Drury’s backhand deke was too predictable easily stuffed.
Lundqvist then forced Grabovski wide into a miss setting the stage for Zherdev. However, the Russian couldn’t deliver with his high offering sailing right into Toskala’s catching glove as the Leafs came out to congratulate him.
Notes: In a different theme, only three Rangers failed to register shots with Betts, Freddy Sjostrom and Dmitri Kalinin not doing so. … Rookie Lauri Korpikoski (9:46) stayed at center anchoring a third line with Nigel Dawes and an effective Petr Prucha (15:45, 3 SOG), who even saw PP time. … Team enforcer Colton Orr got 6:34 nearly scoring on an inspired shift twice but was on for the goal against. … Referred to by his new coach as “the best goalie in the league,” Lundqvist did his part stopping 23 of 24 saves. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough.
… If there was a downer aside from the lack of offense, it was in the faceoff circle where the Rangers got destroyed 36-18 with Moore (13-4) and Grabovski (11-2) owning Gomez (7-13) and Drury (5-12). Betts was the Rangers’ best going 4-for-9 while Korpikoski lost six of eight. … No.6 seeded Rangers (31-23-8, 70 Pts) face a big test at home versus No.7 Panthers (30-22-8, 68 Pts) tomorrow night.
… In other notable games, the Flyers shutout the Kings 2-0 suddenly pulling within four of the Devils who get Martin Brodeur back tomorrow night versus Colorado. The Pens got a much needed win 1-0 over the Islanders thanks to a Petr Sykora tally with 2:28 left. They now have 66 points and are two out of eighth and four behind the Rangers.