Hartnett: Rangers Play With Intensity But Come Up Short In Quinn's Debut

Rangers defenseman Brady Skjei checks Predators left wing Filip Forsberg on Oct. 4, 2018, at Madison Square Garden.
Photo credit USA TODAY Images

How would I grade the Rangers’ performance in coach David Quinn’s NHL debut? The Blueshirts deserve a solid "B" for hanging in there against the powerhouse Nashville Predators. Ultimately, Quinn’s men exited the Garden ice with a 3-2 season-opening loss – but a missed call loomed large in the defeat.

Predators defenseman Kevin Fiala high-sticked Adam McQuaid with 3:24 remaining in the third period. At this late juncture, the score was knotted at 1-1. The Predators scored off the ensuing face-off four seconds later, as P.K. Subban blasted a one-timer that a screened Henrik Lundqvist had no chance of saving. Nashville would later increase its lead to 3-1 on a Colton Sissons empty-netter.

The Rangers showed their mettle when Pavel Buchnevich tipped in a Mika Zibanejad slapper with 35 seconds left in regulation to cut Nashville’s lead to 3-2. Time eventually ran out – but the Rangers grew into the game and played the high-intensity hockey that Quinn demands for the majority of 60 minutes.

A tough-grading Quinn wasn’t totally satisfied with the Rangers’ performance in Game 1.

“No, I didn’t think we really played to the level that we’re looking for,” Quinn said. “Obviously, we are up against a team that’s one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup, so it was certainly a great test. I just thought we were hesitant. I didn’t think we hounded the puck like we did in the preseason. It’s probably the most odd-man rushes we gave up in any game we’ve played.

"We’ve just got to be harder on the puck. We’ve got to do a better job of playing in-your-face hockey. I thought we backed off too often and just gave them too much room. With a team with that type of speed and with that talent, when you give them that much room, you’re going to be caught in a track meet, where you’re giving odd-man rushes, and it kind of happened too often for us.”

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What the Rangers need is straight talk from the head coaching position after Alain Vigneault struggled to relate to some of his young players in his final season and seemingly switched his line combinations at random. No team can win when there’s a disconnect between the head coach and the players.

Quinn’s ability as a communicator is just as important as his systematic changes and championing of in-your-face hockey. He’s going to hold his team accountable and let his players know exactly where they stand. In turn, the players are going to hold each other accountable.

The Rangers can build on plenty of positives from Game 1. They generated a decent amount of sustained offensive-zone pressure against the defensive juggernaut that is the Predators. Filip Chytil’s slick feed on Jesper Fast’s 1-1 tying goal was a thing of beauty. Lundqvist turned away 30 of 32 shots and looked his vintage best with his lateral quickness and glovework.

Overall, the Blueshirts showed the kind of spirit and desire that fans have been demanding for years after Vigneault’s teams put in too many incomplete efforts and regressed into playing passive hockey. Their forecheck was the most active it has been in probably two or three years.

This is now Quinn’s team, and the players being programmed to play his way. That means no more getting away with patchy efforts across 60 minutes. The Rangers were pretty close to a dig deep start-to-finish effort Thursday night.

“This has got to be the way we’ve got to play,” alternate captain Mats Zuccarello said. “We’ve got to be in your face. We have to be hard on pucks. We have to be interrupting their play, quick on pucks and in their faces. We need to be a hard team to play against, using our speed and having a good defensive zone. I think they have good players and they are going to get chances, but I think we played a solid game and we have to take the positives from this game. It’s a quick turnaround. We have two important games coming up now.”

Quinn isn’t going to be satisfied until the Rangers play 100 percent with the attitude and intensity that he demands. He’s going to keep on them, and he’s going to tell them exactly how it is and what they must do to improve. The severed lines of communication have been repaired. Straight talk is now the modus operandi at the Garden.

Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey​.