You know the narrative. "These two teams traded bench bosses..." etc etc. It's the way the game was hyped beforehand, and probably the way it will be until one of these teams fires their current guy down the road.
It is a juicy narrative, and every time the Rangers and Canucks meet with the current arrangement, it will be brought up. The fact is, both these teams are about at close to identical records ( the Canucks have 5 more points by virtue of losing 5 games in O/T, but they have the same 13 wins this season. ), with New York at 13-13 so far. Both markets are also huge media markets, and this one writes itself. There is definitely something to be said for it in one respect as well. Kevin Bieksa was interviewed beforehand, and while he mentioned AV, the prevailing motivation seemed to be "win this one for Torts".
So, how did they do in one of those afternoon games these Eastern teams seem to love ( and always seem to schedule when Western teams come to town, there's another one tomorrow morning in the Carolinas ) ? Let's go to the judges scorecards.
The game definitely started out with some "jam". Both teams were skating hard, and both playing well defensively to prevent real scoring chances and make the pressure more of a "one and done" variety. David Booth drawing a power play about 5 minutes in could have been the impetus, and Mr Booth did get one of the two shots they generated on it, but the power play just wasn't much on track. The hard checking continued right after, with Daniel Sedin getting to the slot for what looked like a prime shooting chance, only to be hauled down. This game certainly had the feel of one where both teams were playing hard for their guys. It is said that ( football coaches say it all the time, and it certainly applies to hockey ) there are about 4-5 plays that change a game. It's those plays that are the thin line between winning and losing in a league where parity makes every team talented. Sometimes will beats skill.
Back and forth they went. A bit of Ranger pressure, a broken stick giving the Canucks a half chance on the rush, followed by a solid slapper forcing a Luongo glove save, it was all back and forth, you take a chance and then we will for the first half of the period.
Unfortunately, a faceoff win off an icing, where both Edler and Richardson had a chance to get the puck out, but couldn't, resulted in Chris Krieder getting a chance right in the slot, and his wrister ( with maybe a tip from a Canuck trying to get his stick in ) beat Luongo low to the blocker side, and for the 18th time this year, the Canucks gave up the first goal.
The Canucks got back to work though, and pressed the play. But then, ( yay! Great rule NHL! ) everyone's fave rule jumped up and bit them. Zack Kassian was having a great shift on the forecheck, but while covering a defenseman, he was about a foot inside his own blue line when his clear off the glass missed the glass. Maybe a bit careless, and he could have done something else, but DAMN I hate that rule.
Of course, it hurt the team, with McDonagh throwing one to the net that was tipped by Kreider off a Bertuzzi push off beat the top ranked penalty kill ( and prevented them from hitting the mythical 90% mark ) to make it 2-0 in a game where the Canucks were not really doing that bad.
The Rangers were simply a bit better in their own end, and took advantage of a few lapses to get on the scoreboard. Tell me if you've seen this movie before! In a period where they outshot their opponent 14-9, forced 5 giveaways to only 1 for themselves, and overcame losing the first 4 draws to only trail that stat 9-7, the Canucks found themselves down 2-0 after twenty minutes.
More of the same was the start of this period. The opening faceoff won at centre, the puck in their own end turned over on the forecheck, and both Tanev and Hamhuis just guarding ice in front instead of taking Rick Nash's stick, and a tip 17 seconds in resulted in a 3-0 goal that chased Roberto Luongo. It's tough to put any of the goals on the goalie, as they were all tips ( maybe the first one? ), but that is how this funny old game goes sometimes. It is a team game, and the Rangers were the team that was more ready to play, and taking advantage of their chances, with 3 goals on only 10 shots.
The game settled right back into the "rushes either way, tough to get a clean shot in the offensive zone", with the Canucks pushing a bit more, obviously. A couple chances forced saves from Cam Talbot on Booth, Henrik, and a couple others, until Chris Tanev's stick got a bit too "handy" to give the Rangers their second power play of the day.
The penalty kill looked better in this one, but then again, so did the Ranger power play. It's hard to believe that they were 2 for 17 recently on the man advantage before this game, as they threw it around pretty good on this one in the last minute of the PP with the Twins on, and a screened shot from the point beat by Del Zotto beat Eddie Lack to make it 4-0.
To the visiting team's credit, they didn't fold up the tents, and the Santorelli, Weise, Booth combo put some good pressure on, forcing saves from the Ranger backup. The back and forth continued, with Eddie Lack making a few more saves than his counterpart, before the Santorelli line finally broke through in the last five minutes.
A nice passing play on this one resulted in David Booth alone in front, and the confidence level must be reaching high levels now, as he made a slick move around the sprawling goaltender to tuck the puck in to make it 4-1. Still a ways to go, of course, but it was a start.
That start to a potential comeback was almost snuffed out on another fairly innocent play, like all the other ones. Not to take away from the Rangers, of course, as they played this game very well, but a long shot forcing a rebound shouldn't result in this kind of chance. The Canuck players all seemed to forget the guy at the side of the net, and Brad Richards backhand off of the chance resulted in a highlight you'll be seeing for a while, as Eddie Lack and Christopher Tanev combined to pick an almost certain goal out of the air on the goal line to keep it 4-1 going into the third.
Again, that thin line between winning and losing showed up in the stats to this point. The Canucks were only down one on face offs ( 17-16 Rangers ), while forcing more giveaways ( 7-3 ) and getting more shots ( 25-20 ). What could have been a tight game was 4-1 with twenty minutes left to go.
An early chance for the 2 goal man Kreider almost snuffed out any chance for a comeback, with Tanev and Hamhuis both guessing wrong on him in the slot, leaving Eddie Lack to make a strong pad save on a low shot.
The heat of the game got turned up, and the refs totally blew the call in favor of the Gotham team as the result of a simple hockey play to give the Rangers their third power play. Del Zotto was focused on a puck high in the air, and a slight push by Richardson put him right into the shoulder of the oncoming Sestito. Kassian was the only guy in the resulting scrum with a glove off ( just one! ), and that cost him the two minutes. As often happens with a cheap call though, the next infraction by the other team evens it up, and a "trip" on Hamhuis standing up at the line shorthanded made it four on four.
The short power play did not connect however, and the game continued at the same score. The Rangers were trying to score on the chances given, but were definitely in the "AV says bring this lead home" mode. Their play at their own blue line was giving the visitors trouble, and made it tough for the Canucks to get something sustained going. Credit the hosts for that.
It would be the 4th line caught out under pressure that put this one away for the Rangers, as a simple point shot from Stralman , after good work along the boards by Nash, resulted in yet another tip from Krieder for his hat trick goal. You could see the air go out of the game at this point. The Canucks didn't "give up" per se, but it was pretty obvious at this point who was going to win the game.
Alexandre Burrows remained snake bit off of a nice set up on a three on two, with Talbot just squeezing it with his arm, in a play indicative of how the Canucks were getting decent chances in this one without cashing in.
The fight we all knew was coming came about after another perfectly clean Sestito hit (on Boyle this time ) resulted in Dorsett throwing them with the big guy from upstate New York, and the Canucks kept trying to the end ( again though, let's face it, they only had 4 shots before the fight in the third, and only 1 in the first 10 minutes. You won't come back like that! ), with a flurry of shots in the shift right after the fight resulting in a great chance for Bieksa to get on the scoresheet..
Kreider went a little too hard late in the period at Juice, and the resulting power play was quickly cashed in for the Canucks, as Edler just got one to the net that Daniel Sedin cashed the rebound on, to make it 5-2, marking the 4th straight game the PP has cashed in, but that was strictly window dressing. An at the death of the game fight ( where Bieksa was some pissed off at Brian Boyle for probably an accumulation of things in a frustrating game ) saw Kevin Bieksa handle the much bigger man pretty well, but that was just decoration as well.
The will of the Rangers at home overcame the skill of the Canucks ( who. let's face it, did not have the "will" that matched the home team today ), and a game that could have been closer resulted in a fairly comfortable win for the New York team. Some substandard play in their own end, a bad number of choices in coverage of guys in front, and one team wanting it a bit more resulted in a loss in a game that was closer statistically.
The Canucks ended up outshooting the Rangers 37-24, forced 10 giveaways to 5 for the Canucks, and won the faceoff battle 28-23. All that did not matter, as the Rangers executed better for the win.
Perhaps the Canucks will get off to a better start tomorrow morning. They'll need to.