The critical facts of this one are simple: The Rangers won this one 5 - 2, after posting a 3 - 0 lead just 5:48 into the contest. That sent the fair weather Blue Jackets fans scurrying for the lifeboats, calling for the heads of the defense, Todd Richards, Jarmo Kekäläinen, and anyone else who might be in the area. Most were mystified by the showing over the past 48 hours, which was in no way reminiscent of what we saw in the pre-season finale against Nashville, less than a week earlier.
Rather than go through a painful -- and pointless -- blow by blow review of the contest, let's go a layer deeper to see what went wrong --and what went right -- with the effort in Madison Square Garden.
Credit Due -- First and foremost, give credit where credit is due. The Rangers played extremely well last night, particularly this guy named Henrik Lundqvist, who people were ready to discount somewhat this season, due to age. He'll have his down times this year, no doubt, but he was as sharp as he has ever been at the MSG home debut. The Blue Jackets fired 39 shots on goal, and out-chanced the Rangers most of the night. The King was in the house, and you have to give him full marks for saving the day. Sure, it's easier when you have a three-goal cushion to deal with, but he filled up a good chunk of a season-long highlight reel.
Speaking of Goaltending -- Many of the ship-jumpers are leaving these losses squarely at the feet of Sergei Bobrovsky. While Sergei pled guilty to a couple of softies on Friday night, you couldn't even muster an indictment against him for last night's effort. Yes, the numbers will tell you he was charged with four goals, but that doesn't even come close to telling the story. In fact, it's much closer to "How to Lie With Statistics" than anything else. (More on this later). Goal #1 came on an uncharacteristic mental error by Fedor Tyutin, who threw a cross-ice pass toward Jack Johnson, not seeing Kevin Hayes in the neighborhood. Hayes intercepted the pass, and walked in all alone on Bobrovsky, who absolutely stuffed him. Bob was down and out, however, and Oscar Lindberg potted the rebound.
Goal #2 came when William Karlsson was triple-teamed in his own zone with the puck. Rather that sticking around to help, Cam Atkinson turned and took off up the ice. Viktor Stalberg poked the puck free, J.T. Miller took possession, and zipped a laser through the crease. Dalton Prout was caught watching the puck instead of Lindberg, who got inside position just in time to have the puck deflect off his skate and into the net back door. No chance for Sergei. Goal #3, similar theme. Jarret Stoll lofts a backhand pass through the air from the left wing toward the right post. Dominic Moore beat Scott Hartnell and batted the back door effort out of the air and into the net. Again, no chance. (Cam Atkinson was boldly defending empty ice at the top of the left face-off circle, with neither friend nor foe within earshot of his location). The final goal was a power play tally, where Dan Boyle found Derick Brassard in the middle with a quick pass. Brassard just deflected the puck, which fluttered into the far corner. Jack Johnson had decent coverage on Brassard, but the deflection, and Sergei was in position for the obvious threat, but had no time to get to the far post.
On the other side of the ledger, Bobrovsky single-handedly stopped a number of odd-man rushes, including a back to back sequence involving a breakaway and resulting penalty shot by Rick Nash. He stymied Tanner Glass from point blank range, and made a few other ridiculous saves that should have inspired the troops. Bob is -- and will be -- just fine. This one is not on him.
Blue Line Blues -- This one fell squarely on the defensive effort, which for the second straight night was well below standards. To be clear, by "blue line", I'm also referring to the defensive efforts by some of the forwards. William Karlsson received a rude welcome to defensive zone responsibility, and Cam Atkinson, who should know better, simply failed to participate. (Both were minus-4 for the evening. That's bad, whether or not you think the plus/minus stat is worth anything.)
However, Karlsson will learn, and Atkinson will have to learn. More concerning was the contributory role by the defensemen. While the New York Rangers are perhaps the quickest team in hockey, and will certainly make a lot of defenses look bad this season, the gaffes by the blue line were of concern. Fedor Tyutin's mental mistake aside, there was a general lack of care with passes, particularly in the dangerous blue zone regions. Those spurred more odd-man rush chances, which were fortunately stemmed by Bobrovsky.
The defensive play deep in the defensive zone was woefully ineffective. Far too often, the defense was caught puck-watching, leaving obvious gaps, which a quick team like the Rangers will exploit in a heartbeat. David Savard, who looked like he had never played hockey before on Friday night, was somewhat improved on Saturday, but still lacked the consistent positional integrity you would expect of somebody of his position (and contract). He was one of many who threw ample passes to nowhere (Kevin Connauton and Dalton Prout other notables in this category). On Friday, the defensive effort seemed cohesive, with back checking forwards providing ample support in the defensive end. That appearance of team defense was lacking on Saturday, particularly early.
Prout's play was improved once he got out of the defensive zone, but he simply does not have the speed to keep up consistently with a team like the Rangers, and consistently putting him in that position is unfair to him and the club. Connauton seemed periodically confused about his proper positioning, and showed some of the hesitancy in his own zone that plagued him last year. While Jack Johnson, Fedor Tyutin and Ryan Murray had some momentary lapses, their play was not the primary source of concern.
It's just two games against one of the best teams in the league, so it's certainly far too early to hurl too many stones, but it's also never too early to point out areas for work. No harm in giving guys like Cody Goloubef the chance to draw in and show the play he displayed at the end of last season. Ditto for Michael Paliotta, acquired from Chicago in the Brandon Saad deal. Enhancing play through internal pressure is a time-tested road to success.
Forward Progress -- While the offensive zone play has shown some lack of crispness, particularly on the power play, those tendencies decreased as the game progressed on Saturday. The power play that led to Boone Jenner's goal was efficient and tight, and the pressure was consistent. With 39 shots on goal, and another 29 either missed or blocked, the Blue Jackets dominated the Corsi/SAT battle, with over 62%. On the one hand that shows that the statistic is not necessarily as determinative as some would suggest, but does match up with the optics of the game. The Rangers capitalized on some quick-hit, isolated breakdowns, while the Blue Jackets had extended possession times in the offensive zone, exerting pressure that was defused only through a terrific Lundqvist effort. That happens. It was good to see Johansen convert on a great Tyutin feed, and for Boone Jenner to get rewarded for his hard work. Lots more will be coming from those two.
The top three lines have demonstrated that they can play at speed and more than match up with a team like the Rangers. That is going to bode well against other clubs, particularly if some of the crispness can return. Gregory Campbell and Jared Boll have yet to impress on the fourth line, leaving Matt Calvert as a man on an island. This is worth watching.
No question that the first two have been a profound disappointment, but hardly cause to pull the ripcord or call for massive change. The defense needs to wake up as a whole, and the details at the offensive end need to be sharper. This is a mentally and physically strong club, and Todd Richards needs to avoid crawling into a shell and resorting to the grit & grind solution. Stay the course, let the offense continue to put pressure with the possession and skill they have shown, and focus on tightening up on the defensive end. There's nothing wrong that can't be fixed. It won't be the last two game losing streak this season, so no point dwelling on it. Monday presents another chance. Stay tuned.