WASHINGTON — When you take into account the type of players the Rangers brought in this offseason, it isn’t an encouraging sign they scored just one goal and were called for nine penalties in their season-opening 5-1 loss to the Capitals.
Just a few months ago, the Rangers were considered to be a team that sacrificed grit and will in favor of skill and finesse. That was a notion general manager Chris Drury set out to rectify this offseason by acquiring players with a grinding style who could give the Rangers lineup some bite.
That bite may have been evident in their first game of the season, but as far as how they competed against a top divisional opponent in the Capitals, the Blueshirts were all bark in a deflating loss Wednesday night at Capital One Arena.
“I think the physicality was good,” defenseman Adam Fox said. “Maybe a few too many penalties, but I think the physicality was maybe more of a media narrative more than within us. We were trying to come here and win a hockey game, and obviously didn’t do that. But I thought guys played hard, for sure.”
It’s puzzling to consider the Rangers’ blatant emphasis on beefing up their lineup as a media-driven narrative. Drury brought in veteran enforcer Ryan Reaves, who has gotten into it with Capitals agitator Tom Wilson several times over the years, and Jarred Tinordi, who has also fought Wilson. Plus, even before Drury took over as president and general manager, former managerial duo Jeff Gorton and John Davidson were the originators of the hard-to-play-against mantra during the 2020 NHL Draft.
The Rangers spent years stockpiling top-10 draft picks who were all highly skilled, and now the organization is just trying to find the right balance.
Head coach Gerard Gallant chalked up the Rangers’ abundance of penalties on Wednesday to a lack of discipline. Sammy Blais, acquired in a trade with the Blues in exchange for top-six winger Pavel Buchnevich in July, had the Rangers’ two roughing penalties.
“They weren’t penalties like that, though,” Gallant said. “They were a couple turnover penalties that guys had to trip people or hook people. That was more the thing. I think there was one penalty that was undisciplined, but beside that, the first 33 minutes was really good. I had no issue with it and after that third goal, I thought that we were a different team.
“We changed our game, we starting taking high-risk plays and I look up at the clock and the shots are 13-6 for us and then they score their second goal and the game changed from there.”
Asked if he felt the Rangers competed to their hard-to-play-against mantra, Mika Zibanejad said to a certain point.
“Maybe not the full 60,” he said. “But I feel good about this group, I felt like the things we saw [Wednesday night] is definitely something we can work with and work on and build off of. Obviously, not happy with a loss and a loss like this, but got to regroup here real quick and get ready for [Thursday].”