In early December, I made my maiden voyage to MSG to the first-ever boxing match between two time Olympic gold medalists. The historic Vasyl Lomanchenko-Guiellermo Rigondeaux fight was supposed to be a high-speed chess match between two of the world’s top fighters. It was instead, a bloodletting. The younger and much faster Lomanchenko peppered Rigondeaux so thoroughly for 6 rounds that “The Jackal” made up an injury and refused to fight any longer.
You see where I’m going here.
Normally in this space, I’d post some charts or graphs or fill you in on some new level of analysis and share with you my thoughts on the direction of the team. When it comes to hockey, I realized a long time ago that discerning anything about a team’s quality from one game was fool’s gold. There are just too many variables happening at once to figure out the difference between the signal and the noise.
So I went to Rangers-Leafs tilt as fan. I can’t say I left that way.
I arrived at the arena a few minutes late, so I had to watch the start of the game on the monitors from the concourse. As the cameras zoomed in the puck, I saw the Leafs toying with the Rangers, with dazzling displays of edge work and an overwhelming sense of confidence up and down the ice. For those five minutes, I thought I was watching a modern incarnation of the 2009-10 Blackhawks, the most dominant team of the past decade. Surely, if there was any fight left in the Rangers, they would survive this flurry and settle the game back down.
Not long after I took my seat (and many thanks to the lovely lady and her adorable 6 year old that let me sit next to them), the Leafs scored on a Zach Hyman deflection directly in front of Henrik Lundqvist. Then followed a JVR goal through the five hole. A Marleau goal off a rebound.
A good hockey game has a certain soundtrack to it. When the home team lays out a big out hit or digs in their skates to creates a series of rushes up the ice, a murmur of anticipation builds to a crescendo and then a climax once the team scores. There was none of that. I wouldn’t be overreacting to say the arena was loudest when the Junior Rangers took the ice at intermission, and that was when half the stadium was in line for concessions.
Mats Zucarello played like a one man army for a coach that didn’t deserve his effort. Hank was chased after allowing 4 goals on 13 shots. Jimmy Vesey and Tony DeAngelo seemed to be the only players that realized that skating with the puck was a better option than gifting the Leafs another wayward stretch pass in the neutral zone.
Pavel Buchnevich literally stood still for so long on the powerplay I thought there was a stoppage in play (this was apparently before his injury). The Leafs forecheck swarmed the Rangers’ breakout at every opportunity, while the Rangers returned the favor by granting safe passage through the blue line to anyone in sight.
The worst part is, the Leafs never looked all that impressive so the fans couldn’t even boo properly. Half of the crowd was headed home by the commercial break in the third period, and from my seat in the nosebleeds, it looked like the team on the bench was eager to join them.
Due to his overall dispiriting effort, the final bell of the December fight signaled the likely end of Rigondeaux’s once-impressive career. And although it was just one game, the final “Go Leafs Go” chant of the night probably indicates the death knell of this once-promising season."The Rangers have officially waved the white flag",