The Rangers opened the season last night against the Coyotes, and immediately showed that they are playing a much different style of hockey. The defensemen were involved in the offense, the powerplay was moving the puck and generating shots, and those shots were actually getting through. It wasn’t all peachy, as defensive zone coverage was very sloppy. The Rangers will be going through a lot of growing pains as they switch from the Torts/Sully low zone collapse to the AV style (looked to be an overload, but that’s something Suit will discuss). Those pains led directly to the first goal by the Yotes.
A few things of note: Brad Richards looked pretty good on the wing. He made nice, crisp passes, and seemed to be seeing the ice very well. Marc Staal played phenomenally as well. Derek Stepan looked a bit rusty. The penalty kill looked like they struggled a bit as well. They also took a boatload of penalties.
Let’s get to the goals:
Phoenix 1, Rangers 0
There were two fails on this goal. First Brad Richards found himself a little too low in the zone, and failed to pick up Oliver Ekman-Larsson (picture #1 above). OEL was able to pressure Derek Stepan, who turned the puck right over to Rob Klinkhammer. This is where the growing pains will be. Richards is that low based on John Tortorella’s low zone collapse system, whereas Alain Vigneault will want his forwards a little higher and playing an overload. It takes time to learn the new system.
Then Stepan followed the puck instead of picking up the man (picture #2 above) circling back to the slot (Kyle Chipchura). Once Klinkhammer found the open passing lane, it was an easy goal. You can make the argument that John Moore –who turned quickly and saw Chipchura coming– could have made a move to him, but neither he nor Michael Del Zotto were out of position. The argument can also be made that Rick Nash should have gotten to him, but Chipchura isn’t Nash’s man in that scenario. When it’s a 1-on-3 down low and the pass gets through, it’s almost always a goal.
Rangers 1, Coyotes 1
After two pretty solid powerplays that didn’t come to fruition, the Rangers finally broke through with the man advantage. This one was just a stroke of beauty. It began with Richards collecting the puck behind the net and making the smart, short pass to Stepan on the wing at the red line. Stepan got the puck to Nash, who drew a pair of defenders to him (OEL, Zbynek Michalek) on a 3-on-2 rush. That left Staal, who was at the Coyotes’ blue line to start the rush, all alone on the weak side. Nash doesn’t miss that pass. Staal just had to put it over Mike Smith.
Coyotes 2, Rangers 1
This goal begins with the play of Mike Smith. He’s one of the best at handling the puck, and his ability prevented the Rangers from getting a full change after clearing the zone. He was able to get the puck back to the Rangers blue line, and this left Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh completely gassed. John Moore, who came on in a forward position after the change, failed to clear the zone. Derek Morris got the puck down to Martin Hanzal, and the puck eventually wound up on Radim Vrbata’s stick in the slot. Moore was on Vrbata, and both Girardi and McDonagh were occupied with the mess in front of the net. Hank made the first save, but the rebound went right through Moore’s skates and back to Vrbata’s forehand for the empty netter.
Phoenix 3, Rangers 1
This one was a bit weird. After Girardi took a pretty penalty, Antoine Vermette won the face off clean back to Keith Yandle. Yandle got the puck to Vrbata at the point who just let it go. Hank reacted very late, so it makes me wonder if he couldn’t see it initially. The puck didn’t go off of Hanzal or Staal in front, so maybe Anton Stralman accidentally screened Hank on the shot. No picture on this one because there was nothing to really show.
Phoenix 4, Rangers 1
After MDZ managed to chip the puck passed Vrbata below the goal line, Nash immediately lost the puck back to Vrbata, who put the puck in front of the net. With the puck going to the middle, Nash actually left Vrbata alone and started skating up ice. Hanzal was unable to get a shot off in front, but the puck went right to the now-wide-open Vrbata, who roofed it to complete the hat trick.
Let’s remember that this was game 1 of 82. There are still 81 more of these things to go, and the Rangers won’t win every single game. As they play more, they will make less coverage mistakes. They also won’t run into a goalie that makes a bunch of stellar saves on a nightly basis. They will also have two of their top forwards back by months end (hopefully).