There was no pre-game banner-raising ceremony for last season’s Eastern Conference Champions.
Maybe there should have been one. Anything to give the New York Rangers (1-2-0) some confidence, energy, and swagger would have been helpful Sunday night as they dropped their home opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs (1-2-0) in a 6-3 loss.
For the Rangers, it was a night of missed connections, sloppy defense, and costly mistakes. They struggled shorthanded as well as on the power play, and G Henrik Lundqvist simply could not find a way to keep the puck out of the net. Though New York outshot Toronto 38-36, quality proved to trump quantity as the Leafs notched their first regular season win at Madison Square Garden.
“If there’s a team loss, this is one of them,” said Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault. “From heads on down, we didn’t perform well. We didn’t execute well, with or without the puck, and that’s why we got result we got tonight.”
The first period, for the most part, was evenly matched. The Rangers started out flat, falling into a 1-0 deficit midway through the first after a power play goal by Leafs D Cody Franson (1G, 1A). But for the third straight game, Rangers LW Rick Nash answered with a goal of his own and tied the game at 1 going into the first intermission. Nash, whose status for Sunday’s game had been questionable, left after the second period to be with his wife for the birth of their first child.
While neither team had a strong first period, it was during the second period that the Rangers completely fell apart. The Leafs scored five goals, beginning with a power play goal by RW Phil Kessel (1G, 2A) after 5:19 of play. Two minutes later, C Nazem Kadri found the back of the net to make the score 3-1, Toronto. The offensive onslaught continued with a short-handed goal by LW James van Riemsdyk (1G, 1A) at the midway point of the period; at first glance, van Riemsdyk’s breakaway, game-winning goal looked to have been stopped by Lundqvist, but the puck found its way into the net to put the Leafs up 4-1.
“I thought I had it, but it somehow bounced in on my right knee,” said Lundqvist after the game. “It felt like a big goal. After that, it was definitely a tough game.”
At the 13:26 mark, the Rangers found a burst of offensive energy. RW Lee Stempniak (1G, 1A) scored on a play that went to the War Room for review, and his goal was deemed acceptable as New York cut the lead to 4-2. But the momentum stayed with Toronto, and Lundqvist’s notorious October-struggles continued. A minute later, Leafs C Tyler Bozak (1G, 1A) quelled any chance of a Rangers comeback and made the score 5-2. RW David Clarkson then extended the lead to 6-2 at 15:13, and Lundqvist was pulled with 5 minutes remaining in the second after letting in 6 goals on 24 shots.
The Rangers had one last offensive surge late in the third, when C Derick Brassard scored at the 14:19 mark to make it 6-3. However, this goal was too little, too late, and though G Cam Talbot closed the door on the Leafs and made 12 saves in relief, stopping the bleeding was not enough to heal the wound.
On the subject of wounds, this game saw new injuries for both teams. Leafs G James Reimer left the game in the third period after his head collided with Rangers C Dominic Moore‘s hip. Reimer, who has a history of head injuries throughout his career, went into the Leafs’ locker room with 13:17 remaining and was replaced by G Jonathan Bernier. He said after the game that his leaving was more cautionary than anything, however, and appears to be fine. For the Rangers, LW Mats Zuccarello was scratched with an undisclosed injury after participating in pre-game warmups. Zuccarello, who led the team in scoring last season, is currently listed as “day-to-day.”
The Rangers look to tally their first home win on Tuesday against their in-state rivals, the New York Islanders (2-0-0) at 7PM ET. The Leafs also return home for a game on Tuesday night against the Colorado Avalanche (0-2-0) at 7:30PM ET.