WASHINGTON – Given the recent history between the Rangers and Washington Capitals, it was more than reasonable to wonder if the 2021-22 NHL season opener between the two teams Wednesday night might feature a few fisticuffs and some rough physical play.
Instead, all the fireworks came from Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals’ power-play unit, as Ovechkin scored twice and the Caps scored three power-play goals to brush aside the Rangers, 5-1, at Capital One Arena in Gerard Gallant’s first game as the Rangers’ coach.
Ovechkin moved past Marcel Dionne into fifth place on the NHL’s all-time goals scored list with his 732nd goal, and Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie and Justin Schultz scored with the man advantage for the Capitals. Hendrix Lapierre, a 19-year-old rookie making his NHL debut, scored the other goal for Washington.
The Rangers’ only goal came from Chris Kreider, a power-play deflection that made the score 4-1 at 9:13 of the third period. There’s no time for the Blueshirts to feel too badly about this one, though. They are back in action Thursday when they play their home opener at Madison Square Garden against the Dallas Stars.
"I feel good about this group,’’ Rangers center Mika Zibanejad said. "Obviously, we’re not happy with a loss, and a loss like this. But we’ve got to regroup here quick, and get ready for tomorrow.’’
A cynic might think the league (and perhaps its national television partners) may have seen value in pitting the Rangers in their season opener against the Caps and Tom Wilson, the player who assaulted their star forward, Artemi Panarin, in that May 3 game last season that ultimately started the dominoes falling on a revamping of the Blueshirts’ organizational structure and roster makeup.
But with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, deputy commissioner Bill Daly and George Parros, the head of the league’s Department of Player Safety in the house, Wilson was on his best behavior, and it was the Rangers who may have overdone it a bit in the physicality department. The Rangers were credited with 27 hits to Washington’s 12, but the Rangers also took nine penalties in the game. Washington was 3-for-6 on the power play.
"I think the physicality was good,’’ Rangers defenseman Adam Fox said. "Obviously, maybe a few too many penalties, but you know I think the physicality was maybe more of a media narrative more than within us. We were trying to come here and win a hockey game and obviously didn't do that. But yeah, I thought guys played hard for sure.’’
Gallant said he liked the way his team played for the first half of the game. The second half, not so much.
"Two different games,’’ Gallant said. "I thought the first 30, 33 minutes were real good… even though we were behind 2-0. A couple of power play goals that you know they scored that they got the bounces on both of them. A (deflection) off Zibanejad’s stick on the second one, and the first one was sort of, (Jacob) Trouba tried to clear it to the corner, put it behind his goalie. But I thought we played a hell of a first 33 minutes and after that we weren't too good.’’
Washington took the early lead on T.J. Oshie’s power-play goal at 4:39, and made it 2-0 on a power-play goal by Schultz at 12:38 of the second period. Lapierre scored on a two-on-one break, off a pass by Oshie, 24 seconds later to make it 3-0.
Ovechkin’s first goal, at 2:37 of the third period, made it 4-0. Chris Kreider scored on a power play to make it 4-1, and then Ovechkin scored again, at 12:01, a shorthanded goal.