The Rangers certainly had their chances, such as a wide-open net in the third period and a similar chance in the second. Mostly, they had an opportunity to build momentum and gain confidence against a desperate and struggling opponent. What they were left with was just one big missed chance.
Because they were unable to generate firepower and unable to contain Connor McDavid, arguably the best player in the National Hockey League, the Rangers were not able to make it two wins in a row. They lost, 2-1, Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden to the Oilers, the only team in the league that had previously not earned a point.
So much for the positive energy from the exhilarating overtime win Thursday against the Sharks, considered a Stanley Cup contender. The Rangers could not expand on their early one-goal lead and could not convert on plays such as the one Filip Chytil had a few feet away from a temporarily unguarded net in the third period. They missed out on a chance to grow.
“When you look at the games we’ve played, it comes down to a couple plays. It really does,” said Henrik Lundqvist, who stopped 25 of 27 shots. “Not getting a puck out on the [penalty kill], that’s the game winner. Or not burying that chance where there’s a wide-open net. A couple chances, a couple things to happen in a game where you can just point at: `There, that’s where we won or that’s where we didn’t win.’
“We needed it. This was a big game for us,” said the goalie, whose team is now 1-4-0.
As odd as it may sound, it might have been a bigger game for the Oilers. They are coming off a disappointing season and lost their first two games, one in Sweden and one in Boston, and did not look good in doing so. They breathed life into their season when McDavid controlled a goalmouth pass with his skate and poked it past Lundqvist on a power play at 6:23 of the third period. McDavid had assisted on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ tying goal at 14:17 of the first.
The day had started encouragingly for the Rangers, what with Mika Zibanejad scoring against Cam Talbot, converting Marc Staal’s pass at 12:49 of the opening period. It was his first goal if the season and the first by any Rangers center other than Brett Howden.
But the Rangers could not add to that. “We got a lot of chances. We’ve got to find ways to score, get in front of their net for those second or third opportunities,” Zibanejad said. “We got our first looks pretty good but we didn’t get the second or third opportunities, unfortunately.”
He hit the post on two other good looks. “It’s not a good feeling, I tell you that much,” he said. “All you can do is keep shooting. If I stop shooting I definitely won’t score.”
Other sources of frustration included an inability to get much offensive flow in the third period because the Rangers were on the penalty kill three times. Also Jesper Fast could not get his stick on the puck as it crossed an open net in the third.
Chytil, the gifted teenager, looked particularly discouraged after he failed to get the puck into the net before Talbot made a dive to get back in position. The Rangers coach took the blame for not giving Chytil more opportunities. “He’s a guy who’s very gifted. I’ve got to get him more ice time,” David Quinn said. “That’s what I think about when you mention his name. He has got to play more.” Quinn emphatically added that the extra ice time could come in the form of a move from center to wing.
As it was, early in this rebuilding year, it was a day of seeing room for improvement. “We weren’t as aggressive as we wanted to be. That’s something we’re going to have to learn, throughout this season,” Zibanejad said. “But you don’t want to learn all season. You want to win games.”