The Rangers waited nearly a month into the 2013-14 season to play their first game at Madison Square Garden, but the wait did not prove to be fruitful as the Blueshirts were shut out by the Montreal Canadiens 2-0 in their home opener Monday night. The loss marked the third time in ten games already this season that the Rangers have ben shutout.
Henrik Lundqvist returned to action, making his first start in nine days after sitting out last week with an undisclosed injury, and was very sharp between the pipes for the Rangers. Lundqvist stopped 25 of 27 shots, looking right on top of his game despite his recent absence.
However Montreal's Peter Budaj---starting instead of No. 1 netminder Carey Price---was even better on Monday night. Budaj stopped all 27 shots he faced to earn his 11th career shutout. He has allowed only one goal in two starts so far this season.
While the Rangers did not force Budaj into making many difficult saves, the 31 year old goaltender did stone J.T. Miller on the doorstep nine minutes into the third period to help preserve Montreal's slim 1-0 advantage. With four minutes remaining in regulation Budaj did it again, this time denying a wide-open Mats Zuccarello after a slick passing sequence by the home team.
Shortly thereafter the Canadiens scored the backbreaking second goal as Alex Galchenyuk beat his man down the ice to convert a pretty feed from teammate Lars Eller with 2:51 left to play.
Despite largely shutting down the Canadiens offense and holding a 21-18 shots advantage, the Rangers found themselves trailing 1-0 at the second intermission. Tomas Plekanec finished a neat passing play through the neutral and offensive zones, breaking in behind the Rangers defense to beat Lundqvist on the backhand for a power play goal at 16:34 of the second.
Plekanec's team-high sixth goal of the season came on Montreal's fourth power play of the night, a questionable roughing call against New York's Brian Boyle at 15:56. The Rangers had done an excellent job on Montreal's first three power plays of the game, denying the league's sixth ranked power play to generate prime scoring chances against Lundqvist for the most part. However a quick burst of passes from Brian Gionta to Michael Bournival to Plekanec speeding up left wing burned the Rangers and landed them in the 1-0 hole.
The somewhat dubious roughing call on Boyle was just one call against the home team that raised the ire of the sold-out crowd. With the Rangers on the power play early in the third period Chris Kreider was called for an interference penalty when a pair of Canadiens seemingly ran into one another and fell down in front of Kreider allowing Derick Brassard to skate in alone on Budaj until officials whistled the play dead and sent Kreider off the ice.
Both teams played solid defense, with most shots coming frm the perimeter and long distance in the opening 40 minutes. Kreider did have a golden opportunity to give the Rangers an early lead, but his point-blank putback at 1:45 of the first went off Budaj and then off iron. Four minutes later Montreal had a terrific chance to jump out in front when Lundqvist was caught out of his net, but an alert Michael Del Zotto dove across the crease to swat a loose puck away from his own goal.
Rookie Jesper Fast, making his Madison Square Garden debut, had two slam-dunk chances at scoring a his first NHL goal late in the second period, but Budaj was strong in his net, making two pad saves to keep Fast, and the Rangers, off the scoreboard. Fast also stood out earlier on the penalty kill blocking a rocket off the stick of Andrei Markov, and later helping clear the puck at the end of the Canadiens third power play of the night.
The Rangers killed off five of six Montreal power plays, but were 0-for-5 on their own power play. Boyle led the Rangers with four shots on goal, while Kreider delivered a team-high five hits and was credited with that lone shot in the first period.
With no time to dwell on Monday's defeat, the Rangers return to action Tuesday night when they skate against the Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum.