It was a home fizzle. In their return from a perfect 4-0 road trip, the Rangers flamed out literally in a dismal 5-1 loss to Calgary at a less than capacity MSG. More on the attendance later.
Playing for the seventh time over a dozen days, it caught up to the Blueshirts on Monday night. They were sloppy from the outset. On a night they had 20 turnovers, nine came in an ugly first period. Outplayed and outshot by a sharper Flames, it could’ve been worse if not for the play of Igor Shesterkin. He bailed out the team as long as possible in a first controlled by the aggressive forechecking Flames. They doubled up the Rangers in shots, 15-7.
With the puck management far from ideal, they also were down a forward when Ryan Reaves went to the locker room for an unknown injury. Although he did return to the bench for the second period, he never took another shift. Reaves only played 62 seconds before coach Gerard Gallant went with 11 forwards the remainder of the game. He did a good enough job rotating, but even with a healthy Ryan Strome back following a 10-day hiatus for being COVID positive (fully vaxxed), this was a stinker.
For far too long, Shesterkin was left to fend for himself. He came up with a few big saves in a lackluster opening period. However, the Flames finally broke through with 1:10 left. On a good transition up the ice, Calgary created a three-on-two rush that ended up with defensive defenseman Chris Tanev finishing off a Johnny Gaudreau pass for what else but his first goal of the season. A player better known for blocking shots and defense, Tanev was able to beat Shesterkin at 18:50 to give the Flames a well deserved lead.
On the radio side, Pete Stemkowski was pretty critical of the Rangers’ careless play. Maybe it was a product of them being tired. However, no one used that excuse following the game. That’s not in the Gallant DNA. Of course, it was brought up by USA Today’s Vince Mercogliano in the postgame. But he wouldn’t directly say that was the reason for the 20 giveaways they were credited with. But Gallant did note that they’ve had the busiest schedule so far so, you know he’s aware that it hasn’t been easy. Just getting to this point with a 4-2-1 record through seven games is a positive when you consider both Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad have only one goal apiece. Plus Strome missed over a week and Kaapo Kakko again sat out. Hopefully, he’s ready by Friday when the surprising Blue Jackets visit. That won’t be no picnic with how well Elvis Merzlikins is playing.
If not for the strong play of Shesterkin, it easily could’ve been 3-0 Calgary entering the second. Instead, they only trailed by one. There was more than enough time to get things righted. But before they got in sync, a bad miscommunication between Patrik Nemeth and Filip Chytil hurt their comeback hopes. On a simple play where Chytil passed the puck back to Nemeth behind the Rangers net, Nemeth miscalculated by throwing a dying quail right to Andrew Mangiapane. He was happy to take the early Halloween gift and fire the puck past Shesterkin high glove side with little wiggle room at 2:09. The goal was unassisted.
I wonder if Nemeth just thought Chytil would be in a different spot. The play made no sense. You don’t pass the puck in front of your net like that. It was uncharacteristic for Nemeth, who’s actually been a solid addition to the blue line. On that one, he screwed up and paid the price. Just an inexplicable turnover that wound up in the back of the net. One point here. You can’t always rely on Shesterkin to make every save. They’ve done that in at least two of his starts. In particular, the shooting gallery at Toronto last week. He was unbelievable. This can’t turn into another Henrik Lundqvist. Speaking of which, he was in studio for the third time with John Giannone and Steve Valiquette. They sure had fun analyzing the game and cracking jokes.
Not long after the Mangiapane goal, Chris Kreider was tripped up by Mikael Backlund. Handed a first power play, the top unit really disappointed the crowd. Outside of an early Kreider chance in front on an Adam Fox pass, the reunited first unit stunk it up. Panarin again refused to shoot the puck. Instead, he forced another pass into nowhere. That led to a Calgary shorthanded bid. But nothing came of it. Blake Coleman is awfully good at reading plays and generating chances. He had a superb game.
With the top unit overstaying their welcome, they heard it from displeased fans. They only had two power plays. Neither were particularly memorable. If you wanted a good idea of how bad they were, Panarin only had two shots while Fox had zero. Mika Zibanejad only was credited with two. One was a tricky shot that fooled Jacob Markstrom, who still kept it out. Maybe if the top players actually shot the puck more, they would’ve been successful. When Jacob Trouba leads your team in shots (6) which was as many as Panarin, Zibanejad, Kreider and Fox combined, that’s usually a bad sign. Nothing against Trouba, who played his third straight strong game. But he can’t be relied on for offense.
It wasn’t that the team was bad in the second. They played much better hockey. That included more active shifts and some edge that they lacked in the first. The best shift came from Kevin Rooney, Dryden Hunt and Kreider, who was double shifted. They did some superb work down low applying forecheck pressure. A pinching Fox kept the play going. However, Calgary was able to escape trouble with solid defense. A trait under veteran coach Daryl Sutter. They didn’t back up despite leading by two. Something Lundqvist mentioned after the period. The Flames didn’t give the Rangers much space.
Another strong shift from the trio of Barclay Goodrow, Panarin and Strome nearly resulted in a goal for Trouba. With Gallant not liking what he saw from Alexis Lafreniere in a quiet first, he moved up Julien Gauthier to the first line and bumped the second year left wing down to the third line with Chytil and Sammy Blais. He decided to give Goodrow a shot with Strome and Panarin on the second line. A hustling Goodrow recovered a loose puck behind the Calgary net. He got it over for Panarin, who made a nice move to get the puck to Strome. The center had a cutting Trouba for a backdoor. But after he was stopped by Markstrom on the first attempt, Trouba had a rebound smothered by Markstrom on what seemed like a open net. That’s the kind of night Markstrom had. He finished with 28 saves.
Despite carrying much of the play, the Blueshirts had nothing to show for it. They trailed 2-0 after two periods. Somewhat astonishingly, they were ahead on face-offs. Yes. In a game they were too loose in which is why they got a deserved loss, they won 61 percent (31-and-20) of the draws. That included Strome going a near perfect 11-for-12. He’s not exactly an ace in the circle. But he was sharp for having missed extended time.
In the third, the Rangers earned a second power play when the hard-working Goodrow was hooked by Oliver Kylington. The power play again was mindless. You had more epic fails from the vaunted top unit. It was despicable. They’ve only connected three times so far. All courtesy of Kreider. Panarin is not even close to where he was the first two years. Something’s missing. Zibanejad is getting shots, but they’re not going in. To be honest, the power play only works due to Fox. When he’s not able to control play and get shots through or find the seams, they’re not going to be successful. He and Kreider are the two most important power play players. One makes dynamic reads while the other is the net front presence.
By the time the second unit got on that included Lafreniere, who got off an acrobatic shot while down to force Markstrom into a save, the 13,590 fans made it known how they felt. Bronx cheers were heard at the World’s Most Vaccinated. Could you blame them? The power play has to get a lot better. When the little used second unit is doing more, that’s an issue. Hopefully, the extra practice time can get things fixed. This is a perfect time for them to have three days off. Especially with it pouring cats and dogs. Perhaps Panarin needs a booster shot.
Funny enough, Gallant had Rooney out for an offensive draw with his grinders. Rooney won the face-off and just as the power play expired, he went to the net and converted in front from Hunt and Trouba at 5:25. Trouba got his shot on net and both Hunt and Rooney were there. Even as it looked like it was Rooney who got it, they actually gave it to Hunt, who had a solid game. I now understand why he’s on the roster. He works hard and is a Gallant kind of player. Even though they eventually changed the scoring to Rooney from Hunt and Trouba, that was Hunt’s first point as a Ranger. The original scoring was Hunt from Trouba and K’Andre Miller. I didn’t get how.
What happened next was mind numbing. On a shift in their end, Gauthier was clearly clipped by a Flames player. Somehow, the four blind mice didn’t see it. Unbelievable. Making matters worse, after a failed clear, Coleman scored on his own rebound to restore a two goal lead. This was ridiculous. How do two refs and two linesmen not detect the high stick? That missed call changed the game. The Rangers had momentum. Then it was gone in the blink of an instant. Coleman is a pesky player who plays hard. At one point,he was lined up against former Lightning line mate Goodrow. The irony. On the goal, he took one shot that Shesterkin stopped, but found the loose change and went backhand to make it 3-1 at 8:13. Boos rained down.
At that point, it was too much to overcome. When you have such a call go against you which in this case was a missed one, maybe it isn’t your night. These things happen. Even the few conspiracy theorists were using the ridiculous prop bets as to why. I cannot stand those in game gambling advertisements. They are promoting degenerate garbage. It’s all over the TV and radio. Prop betting should be banned. That’s how gambling addicts lose money fast. It’s bad enough they legalized it. Go listen to Craig Carton on Saturday morning to understand how addictive and dangerous gambling is. MSG sure has sunk. How do you go from great programming like SportsDesk and High School Weekly to this nonsense? We know why.
Rant over. Back to the game. On what was a good night for Trouba, he and partner Miller still got victimized by Backlund. On a good Noah Hanifin lead pass to Coleman, he slipped the puck to a streaking Backlund, who caught Miller leaning. With Trouba on the other side playing the pass, Backlund easily got by him to sneak one past Shesterkin for a 4-1 Calgary lead with 8:28 left in regulation. Game over. It was lazy positioning from Miller and Trouba didn’t close the gap. Too often in today’s NHL where they emphasize every cockamamie obstruction foul while overlooking the stick fouls we saw with Gauthier, defensemen get burned because they become too passive on such plays. Probably for fear of getting called. But both Miller and Trouba have to know better. That effectively ended the game.
As if to confirm how awful the officials were, they just had to call Chytil for a weak high-sticking on Kylington with the game decided. There was 1:36 left. They’ll call that, but totally miss the obvious one on Gauthier that killed any comeback hopes. Amazing. Of course, Mangiapane got a late power play goal with five seconds to spare for bookkeeping. That is how it ended.
As they skated off the Garden ice, Shesterkin showed frustration following the loss. But as Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti said, this wasn’t on him. The bottom line is his team played poorly. I must say I like Shesterkin showing such intensity. He wants to win. A similar quality to Lundqvist. You want your goalie to have that edge. I bet it brought a smile to Hank’s face. He really fits this new gig perfectly. He’s very good and analyzes the game well. I hope we see more of him. He looks happy. It’s great to see.
BATTLE OF HUDSON THREE STARS 🤩
3rd ⭐ Jacob Markstrom, Flames (28 saves on 29 shots)
2nd ⭐ Michael Backlund, Flames (goal plus 🍎, 4 SOG, +2 in 16:08)
1st ⭐ Blake Coleman, Flames (goal plus 🍎, 8 SOG, +2 in 17:32)