PHILADELPHIA -- Just when it appeared the New York Rangers had turned the page on a troubling start to the lockout-shortened 2013 season, the club had another hiccup in surrendering a 2-1 loss to the injury-decimated Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night.
In a final frame that seemed oddly reminiscent of their season-opening loss against Boston, the Rangers faltered when presented with a prime opportunity to the tie the game in the third.
Trailing by a goal, the Rangers couldn’t convert with two minutes of a five-on-three power-play plus extended time on the one-man advantage that followed.
It didn’t help that the team’s front-loaded first line of Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards and Rick Nash didn’t yield the same sort of spark that lifted the team to a thrilling 4-3 overtime win against the Bruins just one night prior.
The line finished with one point in total after combining for three goals and two assists in their first win of the season against Boston.
“Our top line just simply didn’t play well tonight,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “We still had an opportunity [to tie the game], with a five-on-three, but we just didn’t get anything accomplished.
Credit the Flyers’ penalty kill, which stymied the Rangers with a stellar effort and sent the Wells Fargo Center crowd beserk, as well as its anchor, Ilya Bryzgalov, who made two terrific stops to rob both Derek Stepan and Nash to preserve the team’s one-goal lead.
“They were doing a good job of getting in shooting lanes and Bryzgalov made some good saves, but the chances that we did have, we have to find a way to capitalize on,” said forward Taylor Pyatt, who cut the Flyers’ lead in half, 2-1, with his third-period marker, his third goal in four games as a Ranger.
The late-game special teams ineptitude that resurfaced is one of many issues that face a 1-3-0 Rangers club, but not the most immediate.
After securing the Eastern Conference title last season on account of blocked shots, an unrelenting defense and a hard-nosed lunch-pail mentality, the Rangers have been uncharacteristically passive in the first four games of the season.
Although they were able to match and weather the Flyers' intensity at points, it was the home team that dictated play.
Desperate in search of their first win of the season, the Flyers set the tone early with some snarl, while goaltender Henrik Lundqvist did his best to preserve a scoreless tie.
His 31-save effort wasn’t enough, however, absent any meaningful production from the Rangers’ offense.
“We knew they were gonna come out desperate for their first win and come out strong,” defenseman Marc Staal said. “I thought we weathered it pretty well and didn’t get hurt on it. I think, at the end, we were just unable to get it done.”
That will have to change quickly now that they have joined Philadelphia at the bottom of the Atlantic Division -- arguably the toughest in the entire league.
A truncated season leaves a slim margin for error and the Rangers are once again facing questions about their identity -- not quite a crisis yet, mind you -- as well as their willingness to play the way they did last season.
“It’s just a little bit of everything,” Pyatt said about the team’s struggles. “Everyone’s got to find a way to step up their game a little bit just all the simple details that made this team really strong last year.”