There's always an upside to a game in which you earn a point in the standings, but that point is simply not satisfactory when you were only five minutes away from getting the full two and blew it. That was the case for the New York Rangers in this afternoon's season opener against the Los Angeles Kings, as they managed to give up their 2-1 advantage late in the third and ultimately went on to lose in overtime, 3-2. Considering the Rangers found themselves shorthanded five different times in the game, though, you could say that they were lucky to even grab a point, creating multiple different ways of looking at this one.
The first period was one to forget for the Blueshirts. They were outshot 13-4, showed little life offensively and were a bit scrambly in their own zone. Thankfully Henrik Lundqvist came to play today, otherwise the Kings may have put this one out of reach in the opening stanza. It certainly looked like we were headed that way when L.A. finally got one past Hank at 10:51 to grab a 1-0 lead. Callahan's back-pass got caught up in Anisimov's skates and was snagged by Justin Williams, who set up a wide-open Anze Kopitar for a one-timer goal in the circle. That was a brutal miscoverage there by New York.
Captain Ryan Callahan would have an answer five minutes later when his sharp-angle snipe found a hole over Jonathan Quick's shoulder and made its way to the top corner of the net. Give credit to Anisimov for working hard down low in order to get the puck to Cally. Actually, that entire line was the only one to show any sort of enthusiasm in the first period for the Rangers.
Although the score remained tied at 1 through two periods, the second saw a much better overall performance from the Blueshirts. John Tortorella was not a happy camper following the poor effort in the first twenty, so one would presume that quite a few things were said in the locker room during the intermission.
The first line of Brandon Dubinsky, Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik was very quiet in the first two periods, but they became a whole new beast in the third. Led by Gaborik, their forecheck was much improved and they were getting many more chances down low in the zone. Gaborik gave the Rangers the lead at 10:28 of the third, burying a loose puck in the slot while being defended. You should have also taken note of the subtle but crucial push-pass that Richards made to Gabby in the slot to get him the puck.
New York was almost perfect defensively in the third period, limiting the Kings to only 8 shots despite being shorthanded, but of course the only mistake made resulted in the puck in the back of their net. Michael Del Zotto was in charge of covering Mike Richards on the specific shift that L.A. scored on, but Richards got a few steps on DZ and got open for the deflection that beat Lundqvist short-side.
To overtime we went, and while the Rangers seemed to control the pace they were burned by yet another penalty. The funny thing is that the tripping call that put Ryan McDonagh in the box during overtime was marginal, but it's always the ambiguous ones that kill you. While on a 4-on-3 powerplay, Jack Johnson banged home a Mike Richards pass to win it for the Kings with 52 seconds left on the clock.
Henrik Lundqvist, as usual, was the Rangers' best player in this game, making 27 saves on 30 shots and basically giving his team a chance. He kept them alive in that dreadful first period and that was something John Tortorella was very quick to point out in his postgame comments.
If I were a betting man, I'd put my money on Lundqvist getting the start tomorrow afternoon against the Anaheim Ducks based on how well he played today.
Along with Lundqvist under the "good" column was captain Ryan Callahan. Cally looked possessed out there from start to finish and according to the game's official scoresheet, he ended up registering 11 shots on goal. Now I'm not completely sure that is an accurate number, but nonetheless, he was getting the puck on net quite often. Callahan surged the team's offense in this one, so already we are seeing his leadership qualities with the "C" on his chest.
I liked the way Cally's entire line played, which also includes Artem Anisimov and Ruslan Fedotenko. I thought they were the best forechecking threesome on either team and had some legitimate scoring chances in all three periods.
On defense, the team as a whole looked a bit better than they did in the preseason, but the fact that they took five minor penalties over the course of regulation killed their momentum. The penalty-killing unit was very impressive, stifling the Kings on four out of five of those penalties, but still, you can't expect to win games like that.
Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh were both very impressive. They knew when to pinch, they knew when to hold back and they did a great job of closing the gap between them and the oncoming forward. Rookie Tim Erixon also had a quiet, but steady afternoon in his NHL debut. I didn't notice him all that much, but in his case, that's probably a good thing at this stage.
Del Zotto had his moments, but I didn’t think he was too bad either. He is fully responsible for the tying goal, however, so that will not help his cause much.
So the moral of the story here is really to stay out of the penalty box. The Rangers had some offensive surges in this game that were instantly shutdown due to penalties. If they want a chance against the Anaheim Ducks tomorrow afternoon, that's going to need to change, because they may need to put a quite a few to the back of the net in order to keep up with that deadly first line of Anaheim's.