Henrik Lundqvist

USA TODAY Images

Hartnett: Entertaining Opener Reveals Rangers' Defensive Issues

Sean Hartnett
October 04, 2019 - 1:54 pm
Categories: 

Game one of the Rangers’ 2019-20 season provided hints of what to expect from a transitioning roster. The Blueshirts are capable of playing electrifying, track-meet style hockey – but also can be vulnerable when defending their own end.

Listen to your team news NOW.

While it would be unrealistic to expect repeats of Thursday’s high-octane 1980’s revival, the Rangers clearly possess major offensive talent on their top two lines that can cover up some of their defensive blemishes.

That isn’t an ideal way to win on a nightly basis, especially when head coach David Quinn demands discipline and structure. Very few of these key defensive principles were embodied by the Blueshirts in their 6-4 opening night win.

The Rangers twice surrendered leads within 30 seconds in the second period. Blake Wheeler scored 30 seconds after Artemi Panarin’s first goal as a Ranger to even the contest at 2-2. After Jacob Trouba netted his first goal as a Blueshirt, Wheeler only needed nine seconds to tie the score at 3-3.

As a whole, the Rangers were outshot 47-32 and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was forced into a busy night of work. The 37-year-old netminder saved 43 of 47 shots to the tune of a .915 save percentage. This game’s score could have gone in the other direction if not for several magnificent Lundqvist reactions, including the double pad stack to deny Patrik Laine of a sure goal and the doorstop denial of a Mark Scheifele backhander.

Related:

If the Rangers can cut down on their defensive miscues and smooth out their coverage issues, they will be a very dangerous team and difficult to beat on any given night.

Trouba recorded a three-point night and impressed on both ends of the rink. He rocketed a bar-down drive just as the Rangers’ second period power play expired and later connected a pinpoint pass that sprung a Mika Zibanejad breakaway goal to even the contest at 4-4.

The 25-year-old blueliner led Blueshirts’ skaters with 24:26 all-situation minutes and tied defensive partner Brady Skjei for the most shorthanded minutes at 4:32. Trouba’s efforts on the penalty kill helped the Rangers kill four of five penalties.

Zibanejad completed a four-point night and led the Rangers with seven shots on goal. Panarin dazzled with his ability to control the puck in tight spaces and sniped a quick-strike power-play goal. The $11.6 million wing added an assist for a two-point debut.

Brett Howden scored an opportunistic backhand goal on a loose puck with 4:09 remaining in regulation to pull the Rangers ahead 5-4 before Brendan Smith sealed the victory with an empty-netter.

Heading into this season, the majority of Rangers fans believed this team would be an entertaining bunch. The Rangers were entertaining for the right reasons – but were also heart-stopping for the wrong reasons with their chaotic defending. Quinn and his staff will need to work hard to ensure the offensive dynamite is paired with enough fire-extinguishing in the defensive end.

Follow Sean on Twitter -- @HartnettHockey