There is no point in attempting to spin the straw of Thursday’s 3-2 overtime defeat to Dallas into gold even though the Rangers did come away with one point in their Garden opener.
The first period was either blech or blah, choose your modifier, the Blueshirts cobbling all of four shots on net. The first six-plus minutes of the second was not much better as Dallas took a 2-0 lead, and the game ended following a frightful decision by Artemi Panarin to carry the puck into traffic in the Dallas zone off a rush before losing it and seeing Miro Heiskanen turn the blunder into the game-winner at 1:38.
But between the bad and the ugly, there was a pretty fair amount of good. Indeed, the Rangers carried the play for most of the final 35 minutes of regulation, creating rolling thunder with a four-line rotation with one unit after another putting the puck in deep and consistently going to work below the hash marks.
The record is 0-1-1, and a difficult four-game trip with stops in Montreal, Toronto, Nashville and Ottawa beckons, but the Blueshirts established a template for success in this one. Now they need to buckle up at the first drop of the puck rather than sometime later.
“We talked after the first period about how will comes before skill,” said Chris Kreider, whose net-front deflection of K’Andre Miller’s drive from the top tied the score 2-2 at 15:54 of the second after the wondrous Adam Fox — Maestro to you and Elaine Benes — had gotten on the board at 8:43. “But we’ve got to do it for the full 60 [minutes] and not 40.”
Barclay Goodrow had himself a night, with head coach Gerard Gallant using No. 21 on every line at different junctures of the game. Indeed, immediately prior to Kreider’s goal, Gallant moved Goodrow into Alexis Lafreniere’s spot at left wing on the Kreider-Mika Zibanejad unit. Bingo.
“I like to move him around when things get stale for us,” said Gallant. “That [switch] was just to change the lines. When we’re not scoring you want to try to do some different things.
“I like to leave my lines alone but in situations like tonight you try different things. That actually worked out pretty well.”
The second-period charge — the Rangers out-attempted Dallas 28-7 at five-on-five and 37-12 overall — was actually ignited by a strong offensive-zone shift by the third line consisting of Goodrow, Filip Chytil and Julien Gauthier, the winger getting into the lineup in place of the ailing (lower body) Sammy Blais. After that, the Blueshirts were off to the races; er, trenches.
And honestly, who know what the outcome would have been if Dallas starting goaltender Braden Holtby had not been forced to leave the game suffering from dehydration at 9:56 of the third period? Because relief minder Anton Khudobin was outstanding, notably in getting his right pad down in time to deny Kreider on a left doorstep redirection off a sweet cross-ice feed from Panarin.
“We simplified things, we got pucks back to the point, and we got that goal on the deflection,” said Gallant, who had his fourth line on with three minutes to go in regulation. “You can’t get the cute goals every night but when you work hard like that and get to the blue paint, you’re going to score some goals.”
Fox has established himself as a rare talent through his first two seasons, but he was something special to behold in the second and third periods in this one, not only playing chess against the checkers-playing opposition, but playing it as if he were the male version of Elizabeth Harmon.
“It takes the full team. The forwards have to work it down low and get it high and when that opens up I see chances to make plays,” said No. 23. “When I see an opportunity I want to take advantage, but I don’t want to force anything and be the reason it’s going the other way.”
Nils Lundkvist got his first game and following a handful of nervous shifts — one leading to the first Dallas goal — the Swede hung in. Igor Shesterkin had a strong game, though he said he thought he should have been able to stop the winning goal.
These were the Rangers you should pretty much expect to see. This was the template. When Panarin gets untracked, when Zibanejad finds the back of the net, when the Blueshirts go the full 60, that’s when they might even win a game for Gallant.