This isn’t meant to suggest that the Canyon of Heroes is out of sight, but boy oh boy, did the Senators rain on the Rangers’ and Patrick Kane’s parade Thursday night.
Maybe this was to be expected. Maybe not, though, the deficient coverage around the net from where Ottawa scored its first four goals before tacking on an empty-netter in this 5-3 match in which the Blueshirts seemed disconnected while playing short for the third time in the past four games.
“It’s definitely not an excuse but this has been a weird couple of weeks,” Chris Kreider told The Post after the Blueshirts’ fifth loss (2-4-1) in their past seven games. “We have new guys coming in, we’ve had injuries, it changes the dynamic for sure.
“The learning curve for guys coming into our team can be steep. We need to get together. We need to be on the same page so there are no gray areas. That can take a little time. But we need to get on that now.”
The Rangers started a defenseman shy when denied emergency status by an NHL that had it in its power to hoist the club on his own petard. They then went down a forward when Tyler Motte took a first-period elbow in the face while being charged by Austin Watson, who was assessed a five-minute major and game misconduct for his trouble.
The first power-play unit changed, Kane replacing Vlad Tarasenko and taking the spot on the right half-wall while Mika Zibanejad played the middle bumper and Artemi Panarin hung out in the one-time left circle. Tarasenko bumped Alexis Lafreniere off the second power-play unit.
First and second units, wooden rather than operating on instinct and looking to make one more pass than necessary, the Blueshirts went 0-for-4 while holding the man-advantage for 11 minutes.
“There was a massive change from the first to the second and then the third to the fourth [power play],” said Kreider, who scored off a shorthanded breakaway for his 27th goal of the year to give his team a 1-0 first-period lead. “I think we started to become more natural as the game went on.”
Kane, on the right with Artemi Panarin on the left and Vincent Trocheck in the middle, played 19:36 in his first game since Feb. 22. He took four shots on five attempts, the most dangerous pair coming in the third period with the Blueshirts down a goal. First, a deflection on a long drive by Trocheck with 8:44 remaining in the third period and then a low wrist shot between the hash marks that Cam Talbot turned aside.
It seemed as if Kane was coloring by numbers, not playing by instinct, and those colors were foreign to the 34-year-old winger who’d suited up in Chicago red, black and white for the first 1,161 regular-season games and all 136 playoff games of his career.
“It kind of reminds me of when you go play for Team USA in the World Championships or Olympics, things like that, right?” Kane said. “You’re putting on different gear, different equipment and trying to get used to it but you know you’re always coming back to that Blackhawks gear so it’s a little bit different this time around but this is obviously an Original Six franchise, a storied franchise, an amazing building to play in and amazing fans.”
Kane received an ovation when he took the ice for warm-up. He received an ovation when he was announced as part of the starting lineup. Anticipation preceded him. So did Panarin, who last lined up as No. 88’s linemate on April 20, 2017 in the final game of the Blackhawks’ first-round sweep by Nashville. Soon after, Panarin was traded to Columbus.
“It’s chemistry we had from six or seven years ago,” Kane said of his chemistry with Panarin. “Like I said this morning, I don’t think it’s something that’s going to happen overnight, but we’ll find it.”
Other than Panarin, Kreider has a history as a teammate of Kane’s, hooking up with the Buffalo native on Team USA in both the 2018 and 2019 World Championships.
“He’s quiet and low-key but he wants to win as much as anyone,” No. 20 told The Post. “Obviously his skill speaks for itself, I mean there’s Bread, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone make passes on his backhand the way he can except maybe the Sedins.
“He’s not a big talker, not a rah-rah guy, but he will say what needs to be said. He’s a winner. Just like Goody and Vlad, they come into our room as Stanley Cup champs and we look up to them for that reason.”
The Rangers do need to get back this bizarre stretch. They need to find their structure. It’s been mighty difficult under these challenging — and intriguing — conditions.
“Every team is going through this, putting different players in your lineup and trying to make it fit perfectly but it doesn’t work perfectly every time,” said head coach Gerard Gallant. “I agree, in a week or two weeks’ time we’ll be looking back at this and saying a lot of stuff was happening.”
By: Ny Post