This was one to forget. It’s better off being tossed aside into a furnace. Despite getting two goals from the masterful Mats Zuccarello, the Rangers wasted it thanks to a last second Bryan Bickell goal that beat the buzzer to end the second period in a 3-2 loss to the Hurricanes at Raleigh.
It wasn’t a sound enough effort. Particularly defensively. Even in a game where Henrik Lundqvist only faced 21 shots, he gave up three goals. None were what I’d call bad. His defense let him down. Though I’m not sure why coach Alain Vigneault insists on force feeding the 34-year old star goalie so early. It might have made better sense to give Antti Raanta the start and save Lundqvist for a tougher home match against Lightning on Sunday night.
The real star of the game was Jeff Skinner. The 24-year old former ’09-10 Calder winner was everywhere scoring twice and setting up Bickell’s game-winner that stunned the Rangers and the fans who made the trip to PNC Arena. On a young rebuilding team, he’s actually the offensive leader with Jordan Staal the steady veteran influence. If there was someone to watch out for, it was the speedy and dynamic Skinner who burnt the Blueshirts on all three Canes’ goals.
I missed most of the first due to work. But tuned in just in time to hear the second video review of a coach’s challenge go in the Rangers’ favor, upholding a Zuccarello power play goal from Mika Zibanejad and returning Russian rookie Pavel Buchnevich. The fact the officials had to review the play twice is utterly ridiculous. It’s why the challenge system needs to be retooled. It drags down the game. I get why it’s there. But come on.
Unfortunately, I was also still in my car when Skinner scored his first of the game 4:03 later. On what sounded like a funny play which neither MSG radio’s Kenny Albert or Dave Maloney could figure out how the puck got to Skinner, he beat Lundqvist in front to tie the score. Noah Hanifin and the overlooked Victor Rask notched assists.
What I do know is that it was a bad night for Marc Staal and Kevin Klein. The second pair was victimized twice. The second one coming only 33 seconds into the second when Skinner was allowed to skate between both and flip a backhand past Lundqvist for a breakaway goal. Just brutal. He took a perfect seam pass from Brett Pesce (who?) at the Ranger blue line and coasted by Staal and Klein like they didn’t exist before beating Lundqvist badly. Remember when the younger Hank would bail out teammates on such breakdowns?
The game itself was entertaining. Particularly a back and forth skating second period that saw the teams combine for 20 shots. The Rangers held a 12-8 advantage but only were able to beat Cam Ward once. For one night, the former Conn Smythe winner turned back the clock outplaying Lundqvist with a stellar 28 saves. He was busy denying the Zibanejad line which combined for two goals, two assists, 10 shots and 15 attempts. Buchnevich definitely fits with Zibanejad. It’ll be interesting to see what happens once Chris Kreider is cleared for full contact. He won’t be ready for Sunday.
It was another great read by Ryan McDonagh that allowed Zuccarello to get his second, beating Ward cleanly on a breakaway five-hole to tie the score with 7:43 left. McDonagh has been outstanding thus far. Taking a Lundqvist pass in his end, he made a great stretch pass that sprung Zuccarello for his fourth. Yes. Lundqvist picked up his first assist of the season. Happy goalies everywhere even if ours will never remind anyone of Brodeur, Hextall or Roy. It was a sweet finish by Zuccarello, who makes the game look like a work of art.
However, McDonagh took the Rangers’ only penalty with 1:34 left in the period. With the captain off for tripping, they somehow managed to let Skinner get off a last second shot and perfectly screen out their own goalie. On a play that I’ll just say was bizarre just from looking at the image, you had Nick Holden in no man’s land along with two other Rangers in front with Bickell giving Lundqvist no sight line. This truly was a nightmare back to last year. Skinner got the shot and looked to have completed a hat trick at 19:59. The Caneiacs sent hats on the ice. But the replay later showed that Bickell got a piece of it which made it his goal from Skinner and Rask.
That was it. The Rangers were unable to force overtime. Ward stopped all seven shots in the third. Lundqvist did the same. You never got the sense they would tie it. In what typified the kind of night it was, Vigneault mistakenly had new third pair Holden out with Dan Girardi with 90 seconds remaining. Those are the two slowest skaters. They couldn’t get out of their end and nearly resulted in a Carolina insurance marker if not for a nice sliding stop from Lundqvist.
How Vigneault came to the decision to have Girardi with Holden for that shift is mind boggling. Girardi was reunited with McDonagh for most of the game and played well. He was a big plus on the corsi/possession chart logging over 20 minutes with four shots, five attempts and five hits. But there’s no chance Holden should be paired with him for any shift mind you one near the end when the Rangers need offense. This was unfathomable.
Even after they got a change, the Rangers only had 30 seconds to muster something. They didn’t come close, allowing the Canes to win their home opener after playing the first six on the road. How in the world did they have to wait so long for a home game? NHL scheduling 101.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-Cam Ward, Hurricanes (28 saves including 11/12 in 2nd)
2nd Star-Mats Zuccarello, Rangers (2 goals-3rd, 4th, team high 5 shots in 22 shifts-18:51 including 16:28 even strength, 2:23 PP)
1st Star-Jeff Skinner, Hurricanes (2 goals-3rd, 4th, assist (5th), 6 attempts, 3 takeaways, +1 in 22 shifts-16:31)
Notes: Adam Clendening once again was a healthy scratch for the third straight game. I guess he’s the new McIlrath. Speaking of which, Dylan cleared waivers and was reassigned to Hartford where he’ll get into games. I feel for him. I kinda wish he would’ve been claimed to get out of jail. But there’s a chance he can become a unrestricted free agent next summer if he doesn’t play a certain amount of NHL games. So, I don’t blame teams for passing. … Carolina controlled face-offs 27-18 led by Jordan Staal (13-and-5). Derek Stepan had an awful night losing 7-of-11 and doing little. Our top center is still without a goal. He needs one badly. .$6.5 million worth. … Oscar Lindberg again wasted away on the fourth line with 10:24 in 13 shifts. Why even give him a chance. Right, coach? Let’s face it. Lindberg is next on the AV Death Watch. This coach sometimes leaves you scratching your head. But he loves Holden. Rangers Twitter was on fire mocking him. … Rangers (5-3-0) are home for the Lightning (5-2-0), who will visit the Devils Saturday night.