Game #34: Quinn, Rangers can’t get no Re-Leaf

AP Photo credit Toronto Maple Leafs via Getty Images

There was no relief for David Quinn or the Rangers tonight. They literally got no Re-Leaf. It was a mind numbing yet predictable 6-3 home loss to Toronto before a less than capacity Garden. Boy, am I glad my Dad sold these tickets. I’ll get to why in a second.

Throughout the latter half of the day after I found out Alexandar Georgiev was starting against an opponent he dominated his last two starts the previous season, I couldn’t get the final score out of my head. For some reason, all I saw was, Maple Leafs 6, Rangers 3. That’s exactly how it played out.

If I were the gambling type, I would’ve played those numbers and taken the Leafs and the over. That’s how certain I was they were winning. Maybe it was due to their recent upswing under new coach Sheldon Keefe. Or perhaps because I felt they were due to light up Georgiev, who’s been stellar and earned well deserved praise. Call it just a hunch.

I would’ve preferred to be wrong. There’s something about the ridiculously talented Leafs that screams bad match-up. Sure. They play run and gun where defense is optional. The problem for Quinn’s younger Blueshirts is that too often, they leave their goalies out to dry. It didn’t matter who started. It would’ve played out the same. Sorry to burst the bubble of the Henrik Lundqvist fan club.

I’ve seen this type of wide open game before. Rarely do the Rangers come out on top. And they’ve been victimized by these same Leafs before. Remember Georgie’s first start last year where they led and then the roof caved in in a humiliating third period up North? Exactly.

I also didn’t care for the three day layoff they had following the Crashville Nashville disappointment. I’d have much preferred they play a game on Wednesday or even Thursday to stay sharp. Sometimes, longer rest doesn’t help. Plain and simple, they got into the wrong kinda game versus the wrong opponent.

At no point did they ever lead. Before you could even blink, it was 2-0 Leafs on goals from Pierre Engvall (who) and William Nylander 2:14 apart in a strange first period that was even despite the inauspicious start. Prior to those tallies, the Rangers had a bevy of opportunities to score that they wasted like an early power play 46 seconds in. But they only registered two shots on it and fired some pucks wide into the corner advertisement.

It was as if they were auditioning for a spot. You also had some close calls with Mika Zibanejad wiring a one-timer past Toronto iron man Frederik Andersen off the far goalpost. He couldn’t have been any better set up in the slot. A nifty pass from Artemi Panarin later set up rookie defenseman Ryan Lindgren perfectly. But his high wrist shot clanged off the crossbar. If memory serves, I’m fairly sure the Leafs came down and scored following the near miss. That’s the kind of lethal countering team they are.

The good news is the Blueshirts finally got back in it. Over two minutes later off a good Chris Kreider recovery of a corner dump in, he made a great move around two Leafs to get the puck to Zibanejad. He then made a little touch pass in front for a cutting Brady Skjei, who accidentally fanned on his attempt which worked perfectly to fool Andersen for his fifth at 14:04.

On some more porous defense from the Leafs, Pavel Buchnevich applied some forecheck pressure on Morgan Rielly that forced him to cough up the puck. On a soft reverse that didn’t work to equally inept Tyson Barrie, Buchnevich made a smart play by kicking the puck over to Panarin. He then moved in down low for a two on one and faked shot before sliding it over to a wide open Ryan Strome for an easy putaway that tied the score at 17:51.

The goal for Strome snapped a 15-game scoring drought. It also was Buchnevich’s first point in 10 games since Nov. 29. Buchnevich was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise lost night. He would later add his sixth goal for his first multi-point game since 11/20. He definitely showed that he had chemistry with Panarin and Strome. Hopefully, Quinn doesn’t overreact and split them up. I also liked what I saw from Zibanejad, Kreider, and Jesper Fast. If either of those lines are changed for Sunday’s matinee against Anaheim, I’m going to be annoyed.

I’ll be honest and admit I didn’t catch much of the rest on the TV. But while I was busy in the car, I heard Don LaGreca call the Mitch Marner (garbage 5on3 because Toronto) power play goal that originally was credited to John Tavares. As it turned out, Marner had his centering feed go off Skjei. My Twitter feed fumed over him. More on that later.

The good news is the Rangers showed more fight when Buchnevich got to a Marc Staal rebound and fired home his sixth at 5:27 to once again tie the game up at three. Tony DeAngelo helped set it up to earn his 17th assist and 24th point. Both pace all New York blueliners.

Despite the game tilting in favor of the Leafs style, Georgiev made some key saves to keep it tied after two periods. The Leafs outshot the Rangers 13-4. The first was played on more even terms. By that, I mean the shots were more reasonable (12-8 Toronto). Secondly, as the game materialized, the Toronto bias kicked in. I don’t like mentioning the officiating. But after those clowns at the Department Of Player Safety didn’t even have a telephone hearing with Ryan Ellis for his cheap shot on Buchnevich, the refs favored the Leafs in this one.

I didn’t get to see it. But the Brendan Smith slash that led directly to Marner converting on a two-man advantage was tacky. Later, I couldn’t believe they let the Leafs get away with a bench minor. It also looked like there was interference that forced Filip Chytil offside. No call on either. They then gave Adam Fox a roughing minor late in the period for playing physical hockey. All he did was shove down Toronto forward Dmytro Timashov. Both Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti sounded exasperated. Total incompetence.

I’m not blaming the officiating for the loss. Like Strome told John Giannone between periods, they had to take more shots and not get into the track meet they already had through two. He was very emphatic about that. The point wasn’t driven home.

Instead, the Rangers played a sloppy game and got what they deserved. Pete Stemkowski was all over Georgiev for letting Nylander beat him five-hole for a 4-3 Leafs lead at 2:10. One of two goals a candid Georgiev admitted he wished he had back. He also gave credit to the opponent for playing a good game. The way he handles himself following such defeats is a reason to stay optimistic. He doesn’t let it get to him. I expect Georgie to bounce back whenever his next start is. It’s either gonna be Monday or after the holiday break depending on Lundqvist.

What really screwed up the third was the miscommunication Strome and Panarin had. A turnover by the team MVP allowed the slick Marner a one on one with Georgiev. He beat him upstairs for his second of the game to give Toronto a pair of goals in 47 seconds. A backbreaker that took the wind out of the Ranger sails.

Toronto didn’t exactly sit back either. They continued to shoot the puck and force Georgiev to make saves. They held a 15-10 shots edge and were a comfortable 40-22 overall. It’s not even worth mentioning the attempts. This was a game you burn.

Two points before I call it a night.

Skjei wound up minus-two for the night. That means despite his fifth goal at even strength, he was on for three goals against. That’s too many. No wonder so many I follow ripped him. Ironically, he just got engaged too. Congrats to Brady, who is a good guy. He needs to play much better.

The ghost of Kaapo Kakko played over 16 minutes on the third line with Chytil and Brendan Lemieux. Kakko was not good finishing minus-three with only one shot. He’s clearly struggling since that bout with the flu. He did stay in the game after blocking a shot late in the first. He limped off. Obviously, he was able to continue which is good.

However, his struggles are showing that he’s not ready. I’m not suggesting sending him down. However, don’t be surprised or outraged if he finds himself on the misplaced fourth line to start tomorrow’s match. That would mean the offensively challenged Brett Howden, who works hard but doesn’t have a lot to show for it. And Smith.

I fully expect Greg McKegg to be on the third line tomorrow. Whether it’s continuous remains to be seen. I don’t know what the answer is to Kakko’s woes. He seemed most effective at five-on-five with Howden when he centered the third line with Lemieux. That was when Zibanejad was out. That’s no longer an option.

They’ll have to figure something out while turning in a more defensive oriented game. Otherwise, it’ll continue to be a shooting gallery for Lundqvist as it was for Georgiev.

That’s going to do it for now.

Battle Of Hudson 3 Stars:

3rd 🌟 Pavel Buchnevich, Rangers (goal and 🍎, 3 shots, +1 in 18:44)

2nd 🌟 Mitch Marner, Leafs (2 goals, 6 shots in 20:16)

1st 🌟 William Nylander, Leafs (2 goals and 🍎, +2 in 17:09 with game-winner)

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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