NEW YORK-- It was a less than auspicious start to the New York Rangers 2017-18 season as two goals from Mika Zibanejad were not enough in a 4-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.
It was a difficult start that doomed the Blueshirts, who found themselves trailing by two goals less than 11 minutes into the game.
Matt Duchene, who has been the subject of trade rumors and wants out of Colorado, put the visitors up 5:27 into the game after a falling Henrik Lundqvist dropped a wrist shot from Patrik Nemeth. The aggravated center was lurking by the goal and cleaned up the rebound once it was dropped.
Lundqvist stopped 22 of 25 shots on the night.
The Avalanche's second came on the power play, one that wasn't necessarily deserved considering 18-year-old center Filip Chytil, who was making his NHL debut, did not touch the Colorado player that fell to the ice. He was called for the trip regardless.
Mikko Rantanen made the Rangers pay when he slotted an easy one-timer into Lundqvist's open right side of the net.
But New York got one back on a power play of their own and their newest acquisition set it up perfectly.
Brought on to quarterback the power play, Kevin Shattenkirk recorded his first point as a Ranger in his debut with 2:32 left when a loose puck off a scramble in front of the Avalanche goal meandered out to the defenseman. With plenty of open space, he had an easy shot but decided to pass to Zibanejad, who had a wide-open net to pull the Rangers within one with 2:32 left in the first.
After a loss, it was hard for Shattenkirk to appreciate his homecoming to New York.
"I think the result still stings right now. When I look back on it a long time from now it will obviously be a great moment for me," he said. "It's still a special night in my career. But right now I think I am just a little upset with the result and some plays out there that I felt like I could have had a better effect on the game and helped our team out a little bit more."
Zibanejad wasn't done though as he drew the Rangers level with two seconds remaining, also on the power play, thanks to a blistering wrist shot that flew over the shoulder of Semyon Varlamov. That wrister is a trademark of his that prompted New York to slot him in as their first-line center after signing him to a five-year deal during the offseason.
It was just the start that Zibanejad needed under his new deal.
"It's a relief," Zibanejad said. "You're always looking to break that zero and I was able to do that today. But it's more important to get to a good start as a team."
There were plenty of opportunities for the deadlock to be broken in the second period considering the sheer amount of penalties that were called. As the league continues to crack down on slashing and hooking penalties, the referees doled out eight penalties in the first 13 minutes of the second. Five of them were either hooking or slashing calls.
In total, 14 penalties were called on the night. Zibanejad ensured the Rangers went 2-for-6 while the Avalanche recorded just the one tally from Rantanen in the first.
Oddly enough, the only goal of the second came even-strength with 2:10 remaining. After an easy zone entrance by Alexander Kerfoot, the forward fed defenseman Tyson Barrie, who slapped a shot just over the pad of Lundqvist to give Colorado a 3-2 lead.
"There's no doubt their defensemen beat us up the ice," Vigneault said. "Our gap could've been a little bit tighter. Then we could've taken some of those opportunities away.
The Rangers ramped up the pressure in the third, though early efforts yielded little. Michael Grabner came tantalizingly close to tying it, hitting the post with eight minutes to go.
With four minutes left, Zibanejad found the puck to the left of Varlamov's goal from close range, but the Avalanche goalie made a stellar shoulder save to prevent the hat trick. It was the largest of Varlamov's 37 saves on the night.
"The best player on the ice was their goaltender," Vigneault said. "He played a great game and made some big saves."