The 2018-2019 season could not have gotten off to a worse start for the New York Rangers. After losing narrowly to the Nashville Predators in their season opener, the Rangers let two very winnable games slip away. Against the Buffalo Sabres, the Rangers outshot 44-29 and dominated the pace of the game yet managed to find the back of the net only once. Against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Rangers had leads of 2-0, 3-2, 4-3 and 5-4, all of which evaporated in an eventual 5-8 crushing defeat.
This was not the welcome that new Rangers head coach David Quinn was expecting. The team is rebuilding and will go through some rough patches this season, but no one expected the Blueshirts to stumble out of the gate this poorly, this quickly.
Virtually nonexistent special teams and a defense with more holes than a slice of Swiss cheese may have something to do with that. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist has been the lone bright spot so far, playing well enough to keep his squad in the game.
This past week, the Rangers faced two Pacific Division opponents at home, the San Jose Sharks and Edmonton Oilers. Both teams have playoff aspirations, especially the Sharks. Just a few weeks ago, San Jose acquired two-time Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Erik Karlsson, solidifying the team’s already loaded core and its place as a heavy favorite for the Stanley Cup.
The Oilers missed the playoffs last season after a very disastrous campaign, during which they were expected to make a deep run for the Cup. They are, however, still led by the best player in the league: Connor McDavid.
The Rangers faced off against the Sharks on Oct 11. The Sharks entered the match with a rather disappointing 2-2-0 start But they have one of the most complete lineups in all of the NHL. Their roster features All-Star forwards, such as Joe Pavelski, Evander Kane, Joe Thornton, Tomás Hertl and Logan Couture, as well as some of the league’s best defensemen, including Karlsson, Brent Burns and Marc-Édouard Vlasic.
For the most part of the game, the Rangers did a fine job shutting down the Sharks’ top guns and kept the game very close. But 4:31 into the first period, San Jose broke the ice on a shorthanded goal by Marcus Sörensen. The young Swedish forward drifted up the ice and made a nifty move on Rangers top defenseman Brady Skjei, deking him twice before beating Lundqvist with a sizzling wrister.
The Rangers responded with just over six minutes left in the frame, thanks to youngster Brett Howden. Battling in front of the net, Howden put the puck between Sharks' netminder Aaron Dell's legs, and fired a backhand past Dell for a highlight-reel dandy.
The Sharks challenged that the Rangers were offside before the goal, but after video review, the goal stood. The Sharks were subsequently given a two-minute delay of game penalty for losing the offside challenge.
The score was tied at 1-1 entering the second period, during which both teams continued to play at a fast pace. The Sharks regained the lead at 4:59 of the frame thanks to Joonas Donskoi. Burns started an odd-man rush up the ice and found Antti Suomela, who delivered a perfect cross-ice pass to Donskoi.
The Finnish forward buried a one-timer past Lundqvist to put the Sharks up 2-1. That score held up for the rest of the period and most of the third one. However, the Rangers fought back and threw everything they had at the Sharks. With 2:39 remaining in regulation, they cashed in thanks to Brendan Smith. Pavel Buchnevich set him up with a perfect backhander behind the net, and Smith converted on a one-timer from the slot.
The game went to overtime, and Skjei looked to make amends for his role in San Jose’s first goal. The young defenseman skated up the ice, looking for an open passing lane. Dell positioned himself as if Skjei was going to pass to Mats Zuccarello, but Skjei kept skating and rifled a wrister over the goaltender’s left shoulder and into the net.
Thirty-seven seconds into overtime, the Rangers escaped with their first victory of the season, a 3-2 thriller over the Sharks. It was also Quinn’s first win as an NHL head coach. Lundqvist made 41 saves in another terrific effort.
Two days later, the Rangers squared off against the Oilers. Coming off their first win, the Blueshirts looked to get off to a fast start. They did just that, as 7:11 into the first period, Mika Zibanejad scored to put his team up 1-0. Zibanejad took a cross-ice pass from defenseman Marc Staal and put the puck past former Rangers goaltender Cam Talbot.
But the Oilers had a response, as with 5:43 left in the frame, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins evened the score. Nugent-Hopkins cashed in on a rebound past Lundqvist off a Darnell Nurse miss. McDavid also recorded an assist on the goal.
In that final frame, the Rangers took some costly penalties, none more than Vladislav Namestnikov’s holding minor just over five minutes into the period.
In the waning seconds of the man advantage, McDavid redirected a shot that deflected off Lundqvist’s left leg and into the back of the net. That gave the Oilers a 2-1 lead, which they would hold on to until the end, thanks to fine play from Talbot in net. Talbot recorded his first win against his old team since being traded to Edmonton during the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. McDavid has a point on all five of the Oilers’ goals.
Despite the rough start and gut-wrenching loss against Edmonton, another very winnable game, the Rangers have shown flashes of competitiveness and fight.
Lundqvist has played extremely well through his first four games so far, as he has a 2.03 goals against average and a .938 save percentage.
His outstanding play in net has kept the Rangers in their games despite the rest of the team coming up short. The Rangers will play a difficult stretch of games in the coming weeks.