Do not let the score fool you, ladies and gentlemen—tonight was one of the worst games the New York Rangers have played this season. For the first two periods, before a half-hearted comeback attempt in the third, words could not describe how awful they looked. The fact is, people who did not watch tonight’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning will pick up the paper tomorrow and see a 5-3 score, and think it was a close game. The Rangers were never in it tonight, and embarrassed themselves through the first forty minutes.
- First period: The Lightning are a team that thrives on the powerplay, so the Rangers were asking for trouble with an early march to the penalty box. Ryan Malone would score less than seven minutes in with the man advantage, after parking himself in front of Lundqvist, setting a screen, and jamming the loose puck home. There would be some controversy on the play as he knocked Lundqvist over before scoring without being called for goalie interference, but that would just be the tip of the iceberg for what he had to endure tonight. Malone would then score an identical goal, also on the powerplay, to put his team up by two goals after one. The Rangers’ offense would only manage to put up five shots on goal, hardly testing Smith or even having any form of offensive pressure
- Second period: The Rangers’ sloppy play would continue as the Lightning came in on a three-on-one, with the league’s leading goal score, Steven Stamkos, trailing behind. Rather than sticking to him and taking him out of the play, Marc Staal chose to calmly glide nearby, and Stamkos scored uncontested. With Lundqvist still being repeatedly bumped with no call, the most laughably horrible penalty call of the season would be made here. Malone would knock Lundqvist over and into the net, finally prompting a goalie interference call, but Lundqvist too was called for diving. There was no place Lundqvist could have gone after being hit, but falling down into the net. Brett Clark would score a powerplay goal on that penalty, expanding the lead to four goals, which would become five before the period ended. After the fifth goal, Martin Biron started to get ready on the bench, but Tortorella changed his mind, not wanting to send him to the wolves. But what was worse than all that was the fact that the Rangers only had two shots in the entire period, being out-shot 25-7 after two.
- Third period: The Rangers would finally decide to play some hockey as they came out a bit stronger than the previous two periods. Steve Eminger (1) would get the Rangers on the board less than four minutes in with a wrist shot through traffic from the blue-line. It would be his first goal as a Ranger. Derek Stepan would be credited with an assist on the play. The Rangers were now finally testing Mike Smith, a goaltender who is not having a great season himself. Brian Boyle (10) would then score shorthanded, from Staal and Brandon Prust, and then late in the period, on a five-on-three powerplay, Derek Stepan (5) would drive home a slapshot from the point, on the feed from Marian Gaborik. The Rangers got many chances in the final few minutes, but could not get more than three. Even so, they did not deserve to win tonight.
The New York Rangers continue to beat the bad and average teams to get everyone excited, before putting up clunkers like this one against the better teams in the league. Had the Rangers put up more than seven shots through two periods, maybe they would have won this game. After all, the Lightning are a team less than a week removed from a 8-7 win over the Flyers. We know they can score, but they have a tough time playing defense.
John Tortorella should also consider making Biron this team’s number one goaltender for the immediate future. This game was in no way Lundqvist’s fault, but the team seems to play better around Biron. Why? The answer is unknown to me, but they have to do whatever works. The reason why Biron did not come into the game tonight was speculated by Rosen and Micheletti as not wanting to bring him into a game where he would get shellacked, a.k.a, not wanting to damage his psyche. Perhaps he will get the start on Friday night against the Panthers.
If there is a bright side to a night like this, Boyle and Stepan continue their scoring streaks and are becoming forces to be relied upon. Staal continues to have an uneasy season on defense, as he is slow to get into the play on offense, and looking like a deer-in-headlights on defense. Steve Eminger has also been very reliable lately, and hopefully he will be able to sustain this recent surge for the entire season. The Rangers really need to figure out why they cannot string together several well-played games—not even worry about wins at this point, but just quality of play.