One thing is certain after Thursday night's game against the Flyers - the Rangers organization and Ranger fans should be more than happy with the performance of Cam Talbot.
Unfortunately, the Rangers' lack of finishing is the thing that did the team in again as the Rangers fall to the Flyers 2-1 in Philadelphia Thursday.
With the usual starter, Henrik Lundqvist, not able to play due to an undisclosed injury, the recently recalled Cam Talbot made his first ever NHL regular-season start. Head coach Alain Vigneault also made forward Mats Zuccarello a healthy scratch, which the coach said was a "performance-based" decision. But, the Blueshirts did get defenseman Michael Del Zotto back after he missed the last couple of games due to the flu. But, Del Zotto - who led all Ranger blueliners in scoring last season - has yet to score a point this season and has accumulated a -6 rating.
Chris Krieder started on the top line with Derek Stepan and Brad Richards, while J.T. Miller played the right wing on the second line beside Benoit Pouliot and Derick Brassard. All of this was done in the hopes it would spark the drought of true offense for the team. But, Philly would be the first to hit twine.
Just over nine minutes into the first, after Derick Brassard couldn't contain a bad puck bounce in the offensive zone, Flyer Matt Read skated on the breakaway and beat Talbot through the five-hole for a shorthanded goal. The unassisted goal would give the Flyers a 1-0 lead.
The Flyers possessed the puck for most of the first period and as a result, they got the majority of the quality chances. Philadelphia starter Steve Mason wasn't tested as much as his adversary on the Rangers side. Talbot was called upon to make some solid saves, but for the most part, the Rangers looked a little more organized on the defensive side - at least, when compared to previous games.
With nearly two and a half minutes left in the period, the Flyers' Zac Rinaldo and the Blueshirts' Derek Dorsett dropped the gloves. The fight seemed to energize the Rangers, whose forechecking efforts would soon be rewarded. Brad Richards shot the puck from a spot that was practically near the corner boards - and due to a bad read by the goalie Mason - he was able to score and tie the game at one. For Richards, it was his fifth goal and eight point of the season - leading the Rangers in both categories. Also, on the goal, Krieder and defenseman John Moore picked up the assists.
The second period would not yield any goals, but it would display fireworks. Along with the Flyers' hitting the post twice past Talbot's glove, the Rangers' netminder was also called upon to make some serious saves - especially in the early minutes of the period. The intensity of the game truly reached a new level. After center Brian Boyle took an unsportsmanlike penalty after arguing a non-call, the Flyer power play look much more organized than in the first. But, despite some great chances, the Rangers killed off the penalty. Later in the period, after both Richards and Krieder missed key chances in the slot to attempt to put the Rangers ahead, the game got rough as Philly's Wayne Simmonds and recently recalled Brandon Mashinter traded haymakers.
Less than two minutes later, New York's Benoit Pouliot inadvertently pushed the Flyers' Maxime Talbot into the boards, causing the forward Talbot to hit the boards awkwardly - face and knees first. Pouliot was given a five minute major for boarding, a ten minute misconduct, and a game misconduct. But, Talbot and the Rangers penalty kills units did an amazing job against the Flyers. The penalty kill would continue a couple of minutes into the third period, but Philly didn't score on the lengthy man advantage.
But, soon after the end of the penalty kill, the Flyers kept the pressure on. The Rangers scrambled to get the puck out of the zone. But, defenseman Braydon Coburn would find the puck not far from the blue line and one rocket of a slap shot later, the Flyers were back in the lead 2-1.
Philly's captain Claude Giroux, who has struggled mightily so far this season, would get a hooking penalty soon after, but the Rangers power play looked shaky at best in response. Later in the period, it seemed the Rangers' J.T. Miller tied the game at two. Boyle got a shot on goal against Mason, who poke it away - only to have the puck deflect off of Miller's right skate and into the net. On the ice, the closest referee to the play called it a goal. But, upon further review, it was determined that Miller made a distinct kicking motion and the goal was nullified.
The Rangers were able to generate some solid forechecking pressure, especially for the fourth line of Brandon Mashinter, Dominic Moore, and Derek Dorsett. But, the only quality chance the Rangers had in the final minutes was a big rebound in front of Mason with 3:30 remaining, which was missed by Miller.
The Rangers outshot the Flyers 31-27 and they were able to kill off all four of the Flyers' power play, including the big five minute man advantage. But, that didn't stop Philadelphia from ending their losing streak at four games and winning their second of the year (2-7). Mason had 30 saves for the Flyers, while Cam Talbot had a solid effort with 25 saves in the loss for the Rangers (2-6).
Vigneault thought it was a better effort for the Rangers and the numbers would back him up. The Rangers had the edge in shots, faceoffs won (29-26), and hits (24-22). Players were standing up for their teammates, which was a big difference compared to games ago (for example, when Nash took the hit from Stuart). The Flyers had 15 giveaways, compared to the Rangers' six. But, where it counts the most is the scoreboard. With the win, the Flyers have 13 goals scored on the season, meaning the New York Rangers have the fewest goals scored in the NHL with 12. The Blueshirts 1.50 goals for average is third worst in the league.
This season, when the Rangers score first, they are 2-1-0. But, when they trail first, the Rangers are 0-5-0. No doubt the team needs offense. It's still early in the season. Krieder and Miller were just called up. It takes time to get used to a system. The defense looked much more cohesive in this game, especially with the penalty kill. The units were working and communicating well and the result was a very successful night for the penalty killers. This wasn't San Jose. This team was competing and playing with pride. There is something to build off of. But, much like last year, this team needs goals. The Rangers won't have a lot of time off to work out the kinks in the next few days.
The team's next game will be on Saturday night against the Detroit Red Wings. It will be the last game of the Rangers' season-opening nine game road trip. On Monday, the Rangers will finally have their home opener against Montreal. Then, the following night, they'll head to Long Island to face the Islanders in what could be Carl Hagelin's first game of the season after recuperating from off-season shoulder surgery.