NY Sports Day
Joe Soccoa

Soccoa: Rangers Start Off 2017 On The Wrong Foot

Neil Miller/Sportsday Wire

We can go ahead and file this one under “trap” game for the New York Rangers as they fell to the hands of the Buffalo Sabres 4-1 at Madison Square Garden Tuesday night. Certainly not the way to start the 2017 portion of the season for the Blueshirts who entered the game winners of three in a row.

The Rangers defense was the culprit tonight as they left their franchise goaltender Henrik Lundqvist out to dry in a poor effort. Bad passes, not enough fore-checking, the Rangers were still stuck in 2016. The only shining light it seems that has been the best line for the last month is the Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello as they gave much of the non-existent offense. It came in spurts but not enough to muster up a goal or a win for that matter.

In a tight race within the Metropolitan division and the Columbus Blue Jackets looking like they won’t lose another game, points are at a premium and to lose out on two points against teams well below .500 isn’t going to cut it when it comes to making the playoffs. Sure it’s early to be talking playoffs but again this division seems it’s going to be the toughest and very well may see five teams within that division make the playoffs.

The other bright spot to take away from tonight’s game was Nick Holden who has been on fire as of late for the Rangers. Holden registered a goal and was credited with two hits in 19:25 of ice time. He leads Rangers defensemen in goals (eight) and even strength goals (six) this season. Holden has registered nine points (five goals, four assists) in the last 12 games, including five points (four goals, one assist) in the last four contests.

For the first time since 2009-2010, the Sabers have now won three straight against the Rangers and the second in a row at the garden this season. Despite giving up just 19 shots in the game, the Rangers blunders made it more of a night to forget for the Rangers faithful who made it the 206th consecutive sellout.

Zemgus Girgensons, Evander Kane, Justin Bailey and Jack Eichel were the goal scorers for Buffalo as they didn’t give the Rangers much breathing room.

As for the head coach Alain Vigneault he gave credit where credit was due, “I won’t take anything away from the opposition here, but there’s no doubt we didn’t do a good enough job in preparing our team for tonight’s game. I mentioned it many times: there are no easy games in this league. We weren’t ready when the game started, our execution was nonexistent, we didn’t have a “D” that could make a pass, and our compete level was not good enough. I haven’t said this very often about this group since I’ve been here, but this was a very bad game where we got out-worked badly, and we’re going to need to respond here.”

The coach also acknowledged that a quick turnaround is a must and being ready to play a tough Philadelphia Flyers team tomorrow night.

Lundqvist, who, made his 712th career appearance with the Rangers in tonight’s contest, passing Olaf Kolzig for the fourth-most appearances by a goaltender with one franchise in NHL history knew from the start the Sabers were hungry. The winningest European goalie went on say, “You could tell the first 10 minutes of the game they were hungry, they came with a lot of speed and desperation in their game, and a lot of times that’s what’s going to win you hockey games. They kind of set the tone in the first 10 minutes, and obviously they got some timely goals. (We) made some mistakes, and it’s my job to be there and clean it up, but was just not able to do that.”

The sloppiness wasn’t the only issue for the Rangers, they failed to get their first shot of the game until almost 13 minutes in. The captain Ryan McDonagh as expected like many others wasn’t too happy with the results. “Certainly our effort there to start, it took us half a period to get a shot on goal. They outworked us there in the first, there’s no question about it. There’s no excuse for that. We owe it to ourselves as players, to our linemates and (defensive) pairs to prepare ourselves for every game, to execute, to give ourselves a chance. For whatever reason we didn’t do that tonight. It’s happened here too many times in the stretch and you know we’re just about at the halfway point of the season, so if we don’t find a way to bring that intensity and execution night in and night out, we’re going to see ourselves fall off. Hopefully this is a lesson learned and a hard turning point for us.”

A quick bounce back for the Rangers is needed and brush off this loss. A date with the Flyers and then a Saturday match-up against the red hot Blue Jackets before a five day break is a must to grab points if they want to keep pace and more importantly stay ahead of the teams lurking over their shoulders.


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