Let’s not sugarcoat it. The Rangers were demolished last night at the Garden by a previously underperforming Sharks team. San Jose was better in every facet of the game. They had better goaltending, displayed more talent, pinched more effectively, cleared pucks effortlessly from around the net, and, most troubling, worked harder.
After storming out of the gates with another excellent first shift by the top line, the Rangers followed it up with more good shifts and quickly led 2-0, including another power play goal by Del Zotto. (Perhaps he was buoyed by the news – and really, it was a formality – that he will not be sent down to the OHL, and instead will be with the team all season.) But whatever hope there was for a big win was ended just as quickly when San Jose scored two of their own to finish the first period in a tie.
From there things got worse. The Rangers gave up three goals and took three of their eight penalties in another dreadful second period. Lundqvist replaced Valiquette to start the third – so much for resting the big guy – but fared no better. When it was over, the Rangers had lost 7-3.
If the Rangers truly believe they are an elite team, and the potential for them to be one does exist, then they should not brush off the spanking given them by the Sharks. They must learn from it. The Rangers should watch how the Sharks worked the boards to quickly turn loose pucks into quality scoring chances, how they pinched efficiently (granted, some of this is the different systems), and how they defended in front of their net.
The Rangers this season, for the first time in a long time, have given their fans hope that there is an upside beyond merely gnawing their way into the playoffs and then praying. But much work needs to be done. The sheen of the 7-game winning streak is off, and with it the ability to overlook the team’s flaws. This is good. The Rangers need to criticize their own game, mature, and study Torts’ attacking system (especially the defensive aspects and when to pinch). If not, they will continue to struggle against the top NHL teams.
There is more good news. The Rangers will not have to face the Sharks again until…well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.