Originally posted on The Rangers Tribune  |  Last updated 12/5/11

Prior to tonight’s 4-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Rangers had won five straight games and 12 out of their last 14. So one loss certainly isn’t the end of the world, nor is it something anyone should be getting overly frustrated about. However, without a doubt in my mind, the Rangers very well could’ve won this game, and had plenty of chances to do so when it was 3-2 in the third period. This loss stings no matter how you look at it.

The Rangers struggled with the Leafs’ speed right from the start. Phil Kessel, along with Joffrey Lupul, gave New York fits in the early going, pinning them in their own zone and forcing Henrik Lundqvist to stand on his head. Lundqvist did the best he could, but Cody Franson eventually struck at 6:01 with a wicked slap shot that went through traffic and past Hank to give Toronto a 1-0 lead.

At 5:12 of the second period, defenseman Michael Sauer had trouble controlling the puck in front of his own net after a faceoff, and Tim Connolly took advantage by pushing it past Sauer and under Lundqvist, which made it 2-0. You really cannot pin that goal on Sauer, because the puck was bouncing and he did the right thing by trying to box Connolly out, but to Connolly’s credit, he was able to power Sauer and the puck into the net.

Tyler Bozak and Joffrey Lupul would connect a minute later on the powerplay, and this time around the Rangers were certainly at fault. Lupul, the Leafs’ second-highest scorer, was left all alone at the top of the crease without a defender in sight. Lupul is an especially dangerous player around the net, so obviously that was a big mistake the Rangers made by leaving him there unattended, and sure enough they paid the price.

With seven minutes remaining in the second period, Artem Anisimov buried a rebound while flying off the bench, and at that point the Rangers gained some hope. Their hopes really skyrocketed 1:34 later when Derek Stepan set-up Marian Gaborik for a tap-in on the powerplay to cut the Toronto lead to just 3-2.

The Rangers had two powerplay opportunities in the third period, but they were unable to convert on either, and were repeatedly stoned cold by Jonas Gustavsson at even strength. As a result, they were unable to find the tying goal, allowed an empty-netter, and had their streak snapped at five games.

It took New York about 30 minutes to get going in this game, and as we’ve discussed throughout their recent streak of success, it takes a 60-minute team effort from the Blueshirts to win games against tough teams, and they didn’t get that tonight. They buried themselves by having to play catch-up for half the night and simply left themselves with not enough time to get it tied. It’s unnecessary to take the overall analysis anywhere beyond that point.

As far as individual performances go, I thought Artem Anisimov was the best player for the Rangers tonight hands down. He had a goal, got seven shots on net, he was skating well and he was especially noticeable defensively as well. Anisimov is playing the best hockey of his career right now, and that is good to see.

For the most part, I liked Derek Stepan’s game tonight, and he made a fabulous pass to Gaborik for the powerplay tally. However, I did have a problem with his decision-making in the final minute. Stepan was forced to retrieve the puck with 18 seconds remaining in regulation, which he took his time doing, and then was in a position where he had five players that he could’ve passed to in order to enter the zone. Instead, he decided to dump the puck straight to the Toronto defensemen and they cleared out to end the game. He’s smarter than that, and I expect better out of him in a crucial situation there.

Henrik Lundqvist played very well, as both goals he did allow were not his fault by any means. He was screened badly on the first, and was basically handed a tough situation on the second goal after the faceoff. He did a nice job of stopping Kessel and definitely gave his team a chance to win this game.

Michael Sauer was rocked by a major hit from Dion Phaneuf in the third period, which included a shoulder to the head. Sauer left the game to be evaluated and the team has not released any updates since then. It took Mike a few seconds before he was able to pick himself up off the ice and he did require assistance getting off, so we’ll see what the deal is there.

Also, Michael Del Zotto went crashing into the boards minutes later while chasing down an icing. He was down for quite a while, but once he collected himself and regained his breath, was able to return to the game and was on the ice for the final shift. He seems to be fine, but this is a perfect example of why the NHL needs to amend their current icing policy.

It’s a loss, it’s frustrating, but it’s only the third in 15 games for the Rangers. Forget it, move on and focus on the Lightning on Thursday.

* If you haven’t already heard, the NHL has passed a new four-conference alignment format for next season. Read about that in my post from earlier by clicking here. 

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