After all the media hype, after all the hoopla, there was still a hockey game to be played, and an important one it was. It was evident early that the game would not be as easy as the pre-game ceremonies. The Canadiens came out swinging, and pushed the Rangers back on their heels.
Kirk McClean was brilliant early, making several key saves and keeping the Habs off the board. The Rangers worked past the early game jitters and lived off the referees.
The Rangers got started on the power-play in the second period, a minor that carried over from the first. After being unable to set up a an attack, the Rangers decided to rush the puck up ice with Fleury hitting Leetch in full stride. Leetch gained the blue-line, and dropped the puck to Radek Dvorak who roofed a laser beam wrister to the short side.
That goal, and some fine play by McLean was enough for a while. Until again early in the third on a power-play that carried over from the previous period, Mark Messier scored his first of the season on a lucky bounce. Messier was trying to center a pass to the slot, when a Montreal defender's attempt to block the pass, put it right past his own goalie.
The Habs would get one back after some sloppy defensive play on the Rangers part. The defensive pairing of Jason Doig and Rich Pilon was a disaster waiting to happen, and did several times. Luckily it only mattered on the scoreboard once. Doig had some real dunce-like giveaways, but he recovered from them well, and nerves could have contributed to his play at times. He seemed to settle down as the game wore on.
Newly acquired Brad Brown was particularly impressive. The more you watch him play, the more you think that maybe Michal Grosek was the "throw in" in that Quintal deal. Brown is not flashy, but he is very strong, steady, and calm. He really seems to be a player that could blossom with confidence and playing time. Kim Johnsson also played well on defense, paired with Brown. Johnsson was literally all over the ice at times showing that wonderful speed, jumping up on the play. He also showed a little more of a nasty side then we saw last season, and that could be directly related to playing with big Brad Brown..
All the special teams play could be to blame, but the Rangers did not get a good five-on-five flow very often. The Czech line was one exception, as they were down right dominant on several shifts. Petr Nedved set up the Rangers final goal when he burst through two Habs defensemen, fighting off stick checks and hooks, to feed a perfect pass to a speeding Dvorak for his second goal of the night. Dvorak's confidence keeps growing, and his offensive prowess is swelling right along with it. Both of his goals were pure goal scorers goals, and there is no telling what this kid could do with a full season in an offensive role.
All in all a pretty solid effort. One has to wonder if the Rangers can get it done long term a full strength. Their special team have been brilliant, the penalty killing down right exceptional. However, what happens when the players around the league adjust to the refs? Some point around the fifteen, twenty-five game mark (maybe sooner at this pace) you will see a sharp decline in penalties. Can this team survive with the NHL big boys at five-on-five as it stands? I guess we'll find out, but it certainly could be a concern.
For now let's look forward to Saturday's game in Pittsburgh. It will not be an easy game, the Penguins have tons of talent and speed. Chances are they will not take as many penalties as Montreal, not to mention if the Rangers give Jagr and company as many power-play opportunities as they gave Montreal, Kirk McLean will not be saving the day.
Incidentally, the Rangers are 2-0 for the first time in eleven years.
Power-play Conversions: Mon - 0 of 7, Nyr - 2 of 6.
Goalies: Montreal, Hackett (32 shots, 29 saves; record: 1-3-0). NY Rangers, K Mclean (29, 28; record: 2-0-0).