EDMONTON---If Rangers coach John Tortorella was at all cheered by the news that Henrik Lundqvist left last night’s 2-0 loss to the Oilers in the third period solely because of a left skate problem that caused pressure in his foot, and not an injury, he didn’t show it.
“This is going to be quick,” he said in a 16-second post-game briefing before storming off. “I'm not taking any questions. We sucked from head to toe. And we need to move by it. So I'm not going to dissect it with you guys. I know you guys have to do your job, but I'm not answering any questions. Okay?”
Before Lundqvist’s exit at 8:26 of the third period through the doors behind his net while crouching and grimacing, he made 22 saves. Martin Biron made three as his replacement.
But all the Rangers’ problems of the young season surfaced earlier against the speedier, younger Oilers: An impotent (0-for-4, including a 5 on 3 for 58 seconds) power play, not enough shots (19), more penalties and mistakes by a patchwork defense.
Former Ranger farmhand Corey Potter scored on a power play at 4:03 of the third period to extend a 1-0 Oilers lead forged by 18-year-old Ryan Nugent Hopkins and two other top Oilers prospects midway through the first period. As a result, the Rangers two-game winning streak on this four-city Western Canada trek was snapped, with the finale coming on Monday in Winnipeg.
Afterward, Lundqvist said the pressure in his left skate was bothering him the whole game. “We tried to adjust it during every intermission….I have a lot of stuff in my skates and the pressure was getting worse and worse. I’m fine, we’ll just get it fixed tomorrow. Maybe I shouldn’t have been on it the last couple days. It was getting worse and worse.”
Players knew that the lackluster performance would not be accepted lightly by Tortorella.
“It was a terrible game by us,” said Brandon Dubinsky after the Rangers dropped to 2-2-2. “All night we didn’t win any battles for the puck, we didn’t play the way we need to play when we are successful and that’s really frustrating.”
Rangers captain Ryan Callahan bemoaned the lack of offensivepressure and pointed the finger at himself. “It seems like when we do get in on the forecheck, we don’t get that second and third effort,” he said. “And that’s when you create opportunities. I need to be better. I’ve got to get in there on the forecheck and keep pucks down low. There’s no excuses.”
In the first period, the Blueshirts, reactive rather than pro-active, managed just four shots on a shaky Khabibulin. The Oilers made Lundqvist stop 11 attempts and missed the net on five others.
If Rangers sticks didn’t break up numerous set-ups in the defensive zone, the Oilers, averaging 30 shots a game, would have tested Lundqvist even more. Lundqvist was extraordinary in the first 20 minutes, especially after Gaborik went off at 10:31 for tripping Andy Sutton behind the Oilers net. After a lunging stick save on Taylor Hall’s deflection of Nugent-Hopkins’ shot, he slid to his right to rob Marcus Paajarvi in the crease with his arm as the winger tried to convert a tape-to-tape cross-slot pass from Ryan Smyth.
Trying to create more chances, Tortorella juggled lines to open the second. Gaborik was sent out with Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky.
Soon after, the Rangers, on their most sustained shift of the game, almost scored, as Derek Stepan fed Ryan McDonagh pinching down the left side, but the defenseman’s shot went wide. Marian Gaborik, falling in front, rolled a rebound of Brendan Bell’s shot just past the right post. Then the three top Oilers prospects cracked the scoreless tie.
Bell, the former Leaf making his Rangers debut after playing in the Swiss league last season, pinched in mid-ice and Jordan Eberle poked the puck away, creating a 3 on 2. The Oilers stormed up ice, with Taylor Hall cutting down the side and finding Nugent- Hopkins in the slot for a scorching wrister at 10:09, his fifth of the season.
A major turning point came late in the second, when the Rangers had a 5 on 3 for 58 seconds when the Oilers were called for too many men on the ice at 15:48 and Potter was gone at 16:51 for hooking. Tortorella deployed five forwards, but none could find the back of the net. And Lundqvist was forced to stop Hall on a shorthanded breakaway on the ensuing 5 on 4. The penalty-killers quashed three man-advantages, but at 3:23 on the third, Mike Rupp went off and Potter cashed in.