AP Photo credit Matt Campbell via Canadian Press
Anytime you lose a game late, it sucks. Especially the way the Rangers did. Nate Thompson’s rebound goal past Alexandar Georgiev with 1:07 left in regulation gave the Canadiens retribution for that wild and crazy 6-5 home loss 13 days ago.
This time, Montreal came out on the right side by lulling the Blueshirts to sleep in a 2-1 win at what had to be a bored and sleepy Madison Square Garden. I’m not going to make that as an excuse. Just because Claude Julien had his team sit back and pounce at the right moment doesn’t excuse the younger Blueshirts from not playing smarter and getting the puck in deep.
It’s another lesson learned. As disappointing as it is to lose a game that late in regulation to a similar team that’s been struggling, these are the moments where we will learn more about the roster. I am curious to see how they respond on my birthday Sunday evening at Vegas. You know that won’t be easy. And I doubt I’ll be around.
I am going to be honest here. Watching how the third period of a tie game with good goaltending from both Carey Price and Georgiev materialized, it was painfully obvious that it was going to end bad for our team. They aren’t as polished or experienced like the Habs, who have higher expectations. By sitting back and shutting off the neutral zone, they were patiently waiting for that big mistake to come.
Prior to Thompson cashing in on a rebound, there were other mistakes made. The younger Rangers took too many high risks on fancy passes rather being more deliberate. This was always going to be a tougher, tighter checking game than the one they played up north. Especially with both teams coming off games on Thursday.
So while it hurt to see them lose in the awful fashion they did, I understood why. I knew it was coming. Sometimes, you wish you could be wrong. Unfortunately, I wasn’t. I’m not a gambler like my Rangers friend Sean. But I would’ve took the Habs and the under. It was just a hunch they’d be out for redemption and make it a closely fought game.
David Quinn opted to give Georgiev another start. Originally, it was supposed to be Henrik Lundqvist. First, it sounded like he was ill. Then, Quinn told the media he could’ve played. But decided to stick with the hot hand. So, Georgiev got the rare opportunity to go in both ends of a back-to-back. He acquitted himself well. Following a mammoth 45 save effort to carry the team to a undeserved win over Columbus, he was again solid throughout making 31 saves. It was a hard luck loss.
You had to figure a rested Price would be out for a little redemption himself after that stinker in the first meeting. He was much better finishing with a more Price like 29 saves on 30 shots. It’s what you figured would happen. I don’t blame the Canadiens for playing more close to the vest. When you’ve lost as many games recently as they have, you gotta do whatever it takes. That made it two wins over their last three. They also beat the Islanders.
This was one of those games they could’ve won. It just didn’t happen. I’m not going to go nuts over it. I’ll just give you my input on the game, which was not the most fun to watch. I’ll bet it wasn’t great to be at live either for my father, brother and his friend. What are you gonna do?
The good thing is they have another game in less than 48 hours. That’s a challenging part of the schedule with the next four games all on the road starting in Vegas followed by LA, San Jose and Arizona. I feel like two of those are winnable. Let’s see how they do in a rematch at a very lively environment at T-Mobile Arena on Sunday.
If there was one positive from the loss, it was that the game was mostly played at five-on-five. Only three penalties were called with two on the Habs (Ben Chiarot) and one on the Rangers (Filip Chytil). All in the second period. Otherwise, this was a fast played game with few whistles. If only more were like that. Even if I didn’t care for how tactical it became.
In the first period, Montreal held a slight edge in shots 11-8. But Georgiev carried over his hot play by continuing to be a brick wall. So too was Price, who has a history of turning it on in December. This was his second straight game he was strong in. He allowed two goals to the Isles in a game they dominated. His only mistake was getting beaten cleanly by that astonishing sniper Brendan Smith. Can anyone believe the move he pulled off? That’s hockey!
In a scoreless game midway through the first, a poor line change would prove costly. With Marc Staal up high and Tony DeAngelo down low, Greg McKegg decided to go for a change with the Habs in transition. It was the wrong time to go to the bench. By the time Artemi Panarin got on the ice, Tomas Tatar passed for Phillip Danault, who was able to pass down low for a perfect Brendan Gallagher tip in for his team-leading 13th at 10:37.
No. It wasn’t Staal’s fault as one misinformed reporter tried to assert when asking Quinn during the postgame. God almighty. If these people actually paid closer attention like Joe Micheletti did by pointing out McKegg’s mistake, they’d be good at their jobs. I get that Staal was back for his first game in a month. And yes. He struggled in the first with partner Tony DeAngelo. That was expected. But most want to pin everything on him.
The Habs also hit a goalpost on another good shift with Staal and DeAngelo out there. Eventually, Staal settled down and felt more comfortable as the game went on. For now, he’s got a secure spot with a knee sprain keeping 21-year old rookie Libor Hajek out at least three weeks. Don’t expect to see him until the next decade. Hard to fathom that we’re only 27 full days away from a New Year.
It was during the early portion of the second that something unreal occurred. After Sam Rosen unveiled a great Rangers history that highlighted the original Bread Line of forgotten legends Frank Boucher, Bill and Bun Cook combining for 10 points on Dec. 6, 1932, a Habs misplay allowed Smith to get behind the defense for a breakaway. This magic moment saw the converted forward move in on Price with speed, deke and score on a beautiful backhand top cheese. He sure deserves it and the funny goal celly be did.
Brendan Lemieux did a nice imitation of Smith’s tongue on the Rangers bench. That black eye won’t go away from his classic scrap with Tom Wilson. As it turned out, that was the highlight of the night. I’m happy for Smith because he’s been such a great team guy. He also got moved up to the third line by Quinn in the third period due to more mystifying shifts from Pavel Buchnevich. Did he even play?
After even strength ruled the first half of the game, you had three instances where there were power plays. The Rangers got two in a row after a great Georgiev point blank stop robbed Artturi Lehkonen of a sure goal. Brett Howden helped out Georgie on the rebound. I thought for sure it was going to be a goal. It was an outstanding save by a young netminder, whose confidence is growing.
On two consecutive power plays due to bad minors taken by Chiarot, the Rangers had enough looks. They just couldn’t get one of their seven shots past Price, who was at his best denying Chris Kreider. Kreider remains stuck on six goals. A crazy thought in a contract year. He must be beyond frustrated. He has to turn it around.
In the third, Quinn mixed up his lines. With Smith moved up to the third line with a under the weather Ryan Strome and Buchnevich in the doghouse on the fourth line, the second-year coach decided to stick Panarin with Mika Zibanejad and Kaapo Kakko. Even though Panarin created scoring chances for his line and matching defensemen, they were unable to break through on Price. Quinn did hint following the game that he’d like to see more of the trio.
I was most disappointed in Kakko, whose reluctance to shoot the puck was frustrating. Even Micheletti critiqued the team for passing up wide open shots earlier. It was Kakko, who overpassed when he got a great look due to Panarin, who’s a puck wizard. Even when he doesn’t hit the score sheet, it’s not from lack of creativity or effort. He brings it. This is the best Ranger they’ve had since Jaromir Jagr.
The Montreal winner came off what else but a Ranger failure to get the puck deep. A bad pass from Ryan Lindgren to Lemieux created the Canadiens transition they were looking for. It eventually led to Nick Suzuki setting up a quick low shot from Nick Cousins that got blocked. With Georgiev anticipating the shot and his defense scrambling, it made it an easy put away for Thompson at 18:53.
More annoying was watching every Blueshirt pass the puck instead of shoot like it was a hand grenade while searching for the equalizer. It was mind numbing. Kakko had another great opportunity to shoot. Instead, he tried a low percentage pass across that got intercepted and cleared.
Like Quinn echoed, that kind of game. That kind of night.
Battle Of 3 🌟
3rd 🌟 Nate Thompson, Canadiens (game-winner with 67 seconds left in regulation, 6 of 11 on draws, +1 in 12:22)
2nd 🌟 Alexandar Georgiev, Rangers (31 of 33 stops in hard luck defeat)
1st 🌟 Carey Price, Canadiens (29 saves including 7 of 7 shorthanded)