After what felt like an eternity, The Rangers opened up the 2019-20 season last night at home against the Winnipeg Jets. It seemed like Rangers fans everywhere were a combination of nervous, anxious and excited as they waited to see what this new team and the new faces would look like during their first official appearance on Broadway. However, for those who were there and the rest who watched the game at home, the Garden was an absolute electric factory. The energy could be felt through the TV. It felt reminiscent of some of the Game 7’s we all had grown accustomed to watching throughout the last few years, obviously this was just opening night but the place was jumpin’ nonetheless.
With the surprise send downs of some faces that were expected to stick, such as Chytil and Kravtsov, this newly constructed lineup had a lot to prove. Despite the anticipation of seeing the likes of Trouba, Panarin and Kakko, this lineup was very young. Rookie Adam Fox made his NHL debut playing alongside of Libor Hajek, who was beginning his first full professional season, due to season-ending injury late last year. Lias Andersson was also in the opening night lineup after a very strong showing throughout training camp. The Rangers are hoping Andersson will to continue to grow into the top six forward that they drafted him to be. However, if his growth moving forward is dependent upon avoiding camera wires then he may need some additional practice, as the young forward was a victim of a massive spill during the opening ceremonies before the game.
With an enthusiastic renditions of the O’ Canada and the National Anthem, the puck was dropped at MSG and the first edition of the Neil Pionk/Jacob Trouba revenge game was officially underway.
The Rangers were just as jumpy and timid as most fans during the early part of the first period (and really throughout the entire game). The blueshirts found themselves in early trouble as an efficient Winnipeg PP unit was given two early chances due to consecutive minor penalties to newly anointed second line center, Ryan Strome. Despite some early chances, the PK managed to hold strong. The Jets and their super line of Scheifele, Ehlers and Wheeler seemed to really give the Rangers defense some issues in their own end. This turned out to be a reoccurring theme throughout the rest of the game. The Rangers managed to take an early 1-0 lead at 11:35 of the first period off of a predictable Marc Staal wrap around goal, that made most fans take a second and even third look at the box score.
As the saying goes, even every now and then a blind mouse manages to find the cheese. If you were like me, than the last time you remember a Marc Staal goal was somewhere between a loose puck he kicked in sometime in March of 2016 and when he was getting slapped and hammer fisted by notorious enforcer Alexander Semin… For those of you gamblers out there, not sure what the line was on Marc Staal scoring the first Rangers goal of the 2019-2020 season, but if you took it then congrats you deserve that win. I can only assume it was like + 1,000,000. Despite all that, it was a smooth move by the not so fleet of foot veteran D-man off of a pass from Zibanejad and gave the Rangers the momentum early in the game. However, the Jets managed to tie the game at 1-1 at 17:23 of the first after a goal from Jets forward Mark Scheifele. The game remained tied at the end of the first.
The Rangers began the second period on the power play after defenseman Josh Morrisey was guilty of a slash on Zibanejad late in the first. At only the 00:27 mark of the second, the Breadman managed to fire a loose puck from right outside the faceoff dot past goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who appeared to lose sight of the initial shot from Zibanejad moments earlier. That was both Panarin and Trouba’s first points as blueshirts and was also Zibanejad’s second assist of the night.
The celebration and lead were both short lived as only thirty seconds later, as Blake Wheeler beat Staal (dark-horse Norris Trophy candidate and recent offense juggernaut) into the Rangers zone for a bang-bang one timer off the feed from Ehlers. One of the three assists from Ehlers, who managed to finish with only seventeen last season. The Rangers defenseman seemed to struggle to find ways out of their zone which led to numerous high percentage chances throughout the mid-way point of the second period. But as we have all seen year in and year out, the King stood on his head to keep the blueshirts in this game despite being heavily outshot. At 6:03 of the second new Ranger and former Jet, Jacob Trouba gave the rangers a 3-2 lead off of an absolute bomb of a shot that went bar down on the Winnipeg goaltender.
Despite what many would describe as humanely impossible, the Rangers again blew the one goal lead giving up a goal to Blake Wheeler only nine seconds after the Trouba goal. Although the defense was nowhere to be found, this goal was one that Lundqvist would like to have back as the soft Wheeler wrist shot went right through the five hole. The period concluded with both teams tied at three.
The Rangers opened the third period again struggling to maintain possession of the puck. The blueshirts once again took another early penalty, which allowed the Jets to take the lead at 2:46 in the third off of a tip in front by recently resigned Jet, Kyle Connor. The boys then managed to wake up and used the energy of the crowd to tie this game up at 5:04 of the period off of a silky backhand move by Zibanejad off of a beautiful stretch pass from Jacob Trouba, his third point of the game. The Rangers continued to battle in the game and managed to score a dirty, rebound goal by Brett Howden at 15:51 of the third. It appeared to be a much needed and timely goal by the Rangers bottom six, who appeared to take a little bit longer to get going.
As the game’s final minutes ticked away, the Rangers were victims of a suspect holding call on Jesper Fast, who is typically on the ice when the blueshirts are protecting a lead. With the Jets up two men in the final minute of the game, the Rangers manage to weather the storm and were beneficiaries of a bit of “puck luck” as a deflected shot managed to find its way into an area near center ice. Rangers defenseman/forward Brendan Smith, who played some important minutes on the penalty kill, buried the loose puck, across the ice and into the empty net.
After this emotional roller-coaster of a game, the Rangers will be back in action Saturday night in Ottawa for their first road game of the season. It remains to be seen whether Coach Quinn plans to alter the lineup in anyway. Reports this morning indicate that he may look to split the young defense pairing of Libor Hajek and Adam Fox, who both appeared to struggle a bit in their own end together last night. It also appears the Alexandar Georgiev will get his first start of the season against a young and inexperienced Ottawa squad, who are searching for their first win of the season after dropping their opening night game to Toronto this past Wednesday. The boys look to build on the good and improve on some of the bad after this win. Despite some mistakes and some nerves from some young players last night, it appeared as though this team will remain competitive and will be a lot of fun to watch this season.