When you're battling the team that finished fourth in the league in goal scoring, as the Ottawa Senators did, you know that keeping the puck out of the net will be a challenge. Fortunately for the New York Rangers -- the NHL's third-best defensive team at 2.22 goals-allowed per game -- that's something of a specialty.
While the Blueshirts may have struggled in this regard vs. the Sens during the regular season, they were pretty stingy during Game 1 at the Garden Thursday night.
"This team knows how to defend, knows how to play hard," Rangers center Brian Boyle said. "We're out there blocking shots. Just the same old story."
When coaches and players refer to scoring chances they're talking about shots directed towards the net inside of a home-plate shaped area that extends from the goalmouth diagonally to the faceoff dots and up to the top of the circles. According to Blueshirt Banter contributor George E. Ays, who tracks scoring chances for and against the Rangers, New York out-chanced Ottawa 16-9 for the game.
"Overall I think it was pretty good [limiting the quality of the Sens scoring chances]," defenseman Dan Girardi said. "It's hard to remember every play of the game, but I thought for the most part we did a good job on them. The second period they had some chances, but in a playoff series you're not going to play a perfect game, play in their end the whole time. But for the most part I thought we defended well and kept them to the outside."
With savvy-passing blueliners like Erik Karlsson feeding speedy forwards like Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek, the Sens can burn you with their transition game, but the Rangers maintained some solid discipline all night and in fact got the better of the odd-man chances. By my count from the press box, the Blueshirts enjoyed a 4-1 edge in odd-man rushes for the game, with that one Ottawa opportunity coming when Spezza barely snuck behind the D to take a pass at the Ranger blue line and skated in for a (contested) shot on goal.
"With us [defensemen] it's defense first and we let the offense take care of itself," Girardi said. "Especially with a line like Spezza's you really want to make sure you're on the right side of the puck."
"We did a really good job about not getting hurt," Rangers head coach John Tortorella said after the game. "They weren't hurting us with scoring chances, they were just hurting us with puck possession." That seemed to lead to an inordinate amount of icing calls against the Rangers, but the Blueshirts endured those as well.
The Sens' second goal did come from an odd-man situation (though since it resulted more from a Ranger miscue in their own zone than off the rush I didn't count it above). Marc Staal tried to make a play on a loose puck at the top of the zone but couldn't get there in time, opening things up for Nick Foligno and Erik Condra to make it a 4-2 game. It was one of the few slip-ups seen all night.
"We had a couple break downs here and there, but we're not going to worry about that too much," Girardi said. "We're going to take the good stuff and try to correct the bad."