The themes were simple.
A complete effort and eliminate penalties.
“We have to stay out of the box. If we played the way we played in the third in the first two periods, there is no question the outcome of the game,” Ryan Callahan said after the Rangers dropped a 5-3 decision to the Thrashers at the Garden Thursday night. Rich Peverley and Ilya Kovalchuk, in his first game after missing three weeks with a broken foot, each had three points (goal and two assists each). Prized rookie Evander Kane finished with a goal and an assist. Johan Hedberg turned away 33 of 36 shots.
The match was the Rangers’ first since completing a Western Canadian swing Saturday night by dropping a 3-1 loss against old friend Nigel Dawes and the Flames. The Rangers will be in Ottawa Saturday afternoon, and the next home game is a nationally televised affair with Washington Tuesday night. According to a report on NHL.com, the Eastern Conference co-leaders may have Alexander Ovechkin back in the lineup after missing almost two weeks with a shoulder injury.
The Rangers will need far better efforts against the much-improved Senators and the Capitals than they’ve shown recently. In the last dozen games, including last night, the Rangers are 4-7-1.
John Tortorella was displeased with the Rangers’ start after four days off. Colby Armstrong’s game-opening goal 19 seconds in came after he and Kane skated past Michael Del Zotto and Wade Redden in the offensive zone.
“We were bad defensively. I thought we were slow. I thought we were slow in reacting. First shift of the game, it’s a two-on-two and both skaters skated past our ‘D.’ We were slow,” said Tortorella.
“They’re a fast team. They move the puck well,” noted Callahan. He did not use the off days as an excuse, saying, “We had been playing a lot of hockey, so the four days off should have help us.”
“With the time off, we came out a little slow,” added Matt Gilroy.
By the end of the second, Atlanta had a 4-2 lead, thanks to power play strikes from Peverley (his eighth), Kovalchuk (10th), and an even strength marker from Kane (his fourth) in the period. Atlanta finished the night 2-for-5 with the man advantage.
Kovalchuk and Kane scored in a 35 second span to put the Thrashers up 4-2 after Marian Gaborik had tied the game with a power play one-timer with 4:32 left in the period.
Maxim Afinogenov potted his fourth of the season at 19:47 of the third with an empty netter.
Henrik Lundqvist was in nets for the first time since last Tuesday’s 4-1 loss in Vancouver. Lundqvist had sat out the Rangers’ 4-2 win over the Oilers last Wednesday and Saturday night’s loss. Lundqvist admitted to some rust in his first game action in nine days.
“I can feel that I haven’t played in a while, and to start the game giving up a goal right away was tough. They didn’t have that many shots, but they got pretty big scoring chances,” Lundqvist said of his 22 save effort. “I could feel I made some technical mistakes. It is something that I have to work on.”
Artem Anisimov’s even strength goal at 4:08 of the first period tied the game at one. It was hit fourth of the season.
The Rangers were without centers Chris Drury (concussion) and Brandon Dubinsky (broken hand). Enforcer Donald Brashear played in his 1,000th NHL game. He finished with 3:28 of ice time and engaged Atlanta’s Eric Boulton in a spirited heavyweight bout in the first.
The themes were simple.