The Gerard Gallant era as Rangers’ head coach began with a thud.
The Rangers were overwhelmed in a 5-1, season opening loss to the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena.
The great Alex Ovechkin offered a vintage performance, while it’s back to the drawing board for the new look Rangers who open the home season Thursday night at the Garden against the Dallas Stars.
“The Great 8” scored two goals and added two assists in a four point night that saw him pass Marcel Dionne for fifth place on the NHL’s all time goal scoring list with 732 goals.
The Rangers did not play well in Gallant’s first game behind the bench. There were some positive moments, particularly in the first period, but overall, it was not a good look for the opening game for a team with playoff aspirations. “I thought we played a helluva first 33 minutes, after that, we weren’t very good,” the head coach said after the game. Unfortunately, the game is 60 minutes, not 33.
The Rangers were undisciplined as evidenced by nine penalties called against them, while the penalty killing unit allowed the potent Capitals power play to score three times in six chances. “Way too many penalties, too many bad penalties,” Gallant said.
The Rangers knew they needed to add some grit and toughness so they addressed that during the off season with the additions of Ryan Reaves, Barclay Goodnow, Sammy Blais and Jarred Tinordi. The toughness was there but so was the familiar lack of scoring.
Adam Fox played his usual strong game but he didn’t get much help from the skilled forwards who are supposed to put the puck in the net. Jacob Trouba played a physical game, but K’Andre Miller was not a real factor.
The names of Mike Zibanejad, Alexis Lafreniere, Kappo Kakko, Filip Chytil and Artemi Panarin were not heard much all night long. Chris Kreider scored the Rangers lone goal on the power play but the game was already out of reach at that point.
Before the game began, Gallant made some surprising personnel decisions. He opted to go with Alexandar Georgiev in net over Igor Shesterkin. “Back to back games. I think Georgie played real well. I don’t think there’s any issues with the goals with Georgie,” Gallant said..
Gallant also decided to load the lineup with physical players to counteract the effect of the nasty incident that took place last May with Capitals winger and the latest villain for Ranger fans in Tom Wilson. Blais made his presence felt while Reaves and the fourth line only got limited ice time.
Tinordi got the nod over talented rookie defenseman Nils Lundkvist. Off of Tinordi’s performance, it would not be surprising to see Lundkvist in the lineup for the home opener. Tinordi had a rough night all around. On one shift, he coughed up the puck twice in a span of less than ten seconds. He was fortunate that did not take place in front of the home fans at the Garden.
Despite a physical lineup, there were no fisticuffs.
Commissioner Gary Bettman was on hand so maybe the potential combatants saw him and were like Frank Pentangeli in Godfather 2 when he saw his brother in the audience during the Senate hearings and changed his tune.
The Rangers had some strong shifts to start the game, but Capitals goaltender Vitek Vanacek made some big steps to keep the game scoreless. “I think we start off the game with high tempo and maybe didn’t get to those real good chances, we had a few,” Mika Zibanejad said after the disappointing result.
Washington broke through with a power play goal by T.J. Oshie at 4:39 of the first period. Ovechkin had the first of his two assists as the Capitals took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission.
The game got away from the Rangers in the second period as the Caps scored two quick ones. With LaFreniere in the box for tripping, defenseman Justin Schultz scored a power play goal on a one timer from just inside the blue line, for a 2-0 lead. 24 seconds later, Caps rookie center Hendrix Lapierre took a pretty back hand pass from Oshie and beat Georgiev for his first NHL goal and a 3-0 lead.
Reigning Norris Trophy winner Fox felt the team got out of their game after they got behind by three. “Just seemed we got a little scrambly after that. Maybe we were pushing for a few more chances, giving them a little too many odd man rushes,” he said afterwards.
Ovechkin’s first goal came on the power play early in the third period to give Washington a 4-0 lead. It was Ovechkin’s 731st career goal and it tied him with the Hall of Famer Dionne for fifth place on the all time goal scoring list. After Kreider’s goal made it 4-1, the Rangers were on the power play when Ovechkin scored shorthanded to make it 5-1 and move past Dionne for sole possession of fifth place on all time list.
The Rangers will head home and look for a better result in Thursday night’s home opener at the Garden against the Dallas Stars. “Home opener, back at the Garden. It’s definitely a game we’ve been looking forward to,” Zibanejad said.