Despite all the hoopla leading up to the puck drop in front of a sold-out crowd, with tickets selling for $215 on average, jerseys selling out both at MSG and the NHL store next door, and the thunderous cheers that followed each time the legendary Patrick Kane touched the puck during his New York Rangers debut, it still all felt surreal to yours truly who had the opportunity of being in attendance, sitting in section 222, row 12, seat 20 for the occasion.
Then a few minutes into the third, it all came crashing down courtesy of the Ottawa Senators, who rained on Kane’s parade by using a third-period rally to defeat the Blueshirts 5-3 at a raucous Madison Square Garden on Thursday. Derrick Brassard celebrated his 1,000th NHL game with two goals, and former Ranger, Cam Talbot made 29 saves for Ottawa, as their scrappy play saw them notch a 10th win in their last 14 games, moving them to within five points of a playoff berth with 21 games remaining.
One could argue fans’ hopes were too high and expectations too grand for things between showtime and the breadman, Artemi Panarin, to click right away after a six-year hiatus from their days with the Chicago Blackhawks or that New York was doomed from the start playing on a back-back with only five defensemen.
Yet it’s hard to blame them, especially after how the debut of the Tarasenkshow went last month with Vladimir Tarasenko, who scored a glorious goal on Thursday less than 24 hours after his first overtime winner with his new team, lightning the lamp a mere three minutes into a 6-3 victory over the Seattle Kraken on February 10th.
There were moments throughout the first half of the contest where you saw what could be when everything clicked, preceding the harsh truth that a bit of patience is in order until Kane gets acclimated to his new surroundings, especially when on the man-advantage.
THE POWERLESS PLAY:
The power play was an atrocity and ultimately proved to be the difference in the game, as, despite 11 shots on goal in 11 minutes of ice time, the potent New York unit came up empty-handed.
The first power-play featured Kane and Panarin on the outside. At the same time, Mika Zibanejad played in the bumper position, and Chris Kreider played the slot area with Adam Fox operating the blue line, while the second line comprised Tarasenko, Vincent Trocheck, Kaapo Kakko, Filip Chytil, and Jacob Trouba. with Alexis Lafreniere being the odd man out.
Their first crack came at the 12:49 mark of the first, when already up 1-0 courtesy of a Kreider shorthanded breakaway goal 6:31 into the contest, 31 seconds after Jimmy Vesey was questionably boxed for high sticking, the Rangers lost another forward.
While racing for a puck in the corner, an elbow to the face preceding a crunchy hit from Senators forward Austin Watson sent Tyler Motte crumbling to the ice after smashing his head into the boards, forcing him to leave the game with an upper-body injury.
Watson was charged with a five-minute major and game misconduct, but despite the crowd imploring them, including Kane, to “Shoot,” the Rangers were passive and ‘not aggressive enough as it fizzled out with nothing to show for it.
They would get another opportunity later in the frame courtesy of an Ottawa, too many men on the ice penalty. However, although they generated more net play on that attempt and the latter two, much remained to be desired.
Kane, in his first game since February 22nd, finished with four shots on goal in 19:36 of ice time, none closer than his wide deflection or his unsuccessful low slot wrister, both of which came in the third period as his new team looked for the equalizer. “It’s real life, not a video game,” Kreider said, “Each power play looked better than the next. We need to be on the same page, so there are no gray areas. That can take a little time. But we need to get on that now.”
“It’s chemistry we had from six or seven years ago,” Kane said of Thursday’s wavering chemistry with Panarin, which also resulted in several turnovers, “I don’t think it’s something that’s going to happen overnight, but we’ll find it.” They have 20 more games to do just that.
The porous Rangers’ power play opened the door for Ottawa, who ultimately pounced when NY Native Shane Pinto tied it 9:42 into the second period before Brassard put his team in front 21 seconds later.
At the 12:15 mark, it was Jacob Trouba, taking a Panarin pass and zig-zagging his way toward the net before banking the biscuit off of Ottawa defenseman Thomas Chabot to square the score, before Tarasenko sent the crowd into a frenzy with the same one-handed backhand move he pulled on Talbot back in 2015 when he was a Blue and the goaltender was a Blueshirt, giving the Rangers a 3-2 lead entering the final twenty minutes of play.
Yet it was Ottawa’s show in the third, as Brassard quickly swiped the puck on what was one of a whopping 19 New York turnovers on the night and potted the second of a historic evening by roofing one over Jaroslav Halak, who made 29 saves on 33 shots, a mere 95 seconds into the stanza.
Then, 1:51 later, Claude Giroux redirected a Travis Hamonic shot to put Ottawa up for good before a Tim Stutzle empty netter with 3:18 remaining sealed the season-series victory for the Senators.
Given the consequential circumstances on the defensive side for the Rangers due to the injured Ryan Lindgren, the suspended K’Andre Miller, and the surprising denial of an emergency recall by the NHL, who said the Rangers “Voluntarily” put themselves in this cap-strapped situation with the Kane trade, it would be easy to chalk the poor defensive showing to fatigue.
Still, Gallant had none of that, chastising his forwards for their “Lazy” forechecking, shoddy work down low, and inability to go north-south when needed.
The Rangers have shown before a willingness adapts to what other teams throw at them, but on Thursday, it seemed as if they weren’t open to change as much as they’d hoped to be, akin to the feelings of their newest star. “It’s different because of the new colors, new gear, and new teammates,” Kane said; “We have that game Saturday In Boston, and then we’ve got four days between games. It’ll be nice to settle in kind of, get a couple of practices, and understand the way they want to play systematically.“