By Dubi Silverstein
The Rangers' seven-game winning streak did not just end, it was terminated, and how, in a 7-3 Shark attack (7-1 after the Rangers jumped out to a 2-0 lead).
But unlike their compatriots in the Meadowlands, the Giants, who were similarly trounced in a streak-busting loss in New Orleans, the Rangers weren't questioning themselves all too much, even though they, like the Giants, ran up the latter part of their streak against bad or inexperienced teams.
And that's because John Tortorella, unlike his players, was willing to lay the blame on his goaltender. "I thought Valley fought it," the coach said of Steve Valiquette, spelling all-world netminder Henrik Lundqvist (who came in to mop up in the third period and gave up two goals himself). "Four goals on eighteen shots, that's not good," Tortorella said of Valiquette (it was actually five goals on seventeen shots). "I was hoping he would work through it, but I don't think he was sharp and that hurt us."
In fact, Tortorella thought his team didn't play all that badly, other than continuing to take too many ill-advised penalties. "In the first two periods, we weren't as bad as the score was," he said. "I don't think we were terrible. They score some goals and we don't." The Sharks got the saves, he said, while the Rangers did not.
Maybe after he gets a chance to review a tape of the game, he'll see that Valiquette's nightmare night was aided and abetted by some awful defense (and it wasn't just the defensemen either).
But if Valiquette was a problem, why was he even in there? The Rangers had a day off after their last game (they had two days off before that), they weren't scheduled to play again until Thursday, and they have at least a day off between games until Thanksgiving weekend.
So it's not like Lundqvist has been or is soon to be overworked. Last Saturday in Valiquette's home town of Toronto against the woeful Leafs, against whom he has had success, would have been a good spot to put him in. Or any of the next five games, which are against the next three worst teams in the league after Toronto (Habs, Isles, Wild). Or even next Monday against the overachieving Coyotes.
So why the heck put him in against a team that boasts Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau, Dan Boyle, Rob Blake, and more?
When asked a question like that last season, Tortorella admonished observers not to overthink things. But did he underthink this decision?
He told reporters before the game that he didn't have a road map for how he was planning to get Valiquette starts in place of Lundqvist. He even dismissed the notion that he was saving Lundqvist for conference games, saying it was just a coincidence that he chose to start Valiquette against two Pacific Division teams.
Add to that the notion that his entire game plan is based on an aggressive attack that, he has often said, relies on one of the league's best goaltenders erasing any resulting mistakes.
But that goaltender is Lundqvist, not Valiquette. Starting the latter against an attack as potent as the Sharks' would have required an adjustment in the game plan, one Tortorella is not likely to make, especially with his team winning.
With his team failing to heed his calls to cut down their penalties, or to get their game back in order after a few less-than-sterling performances, this was just not the most prudent spot to get Valiquette some work and Lundqvist the rest he will need in an Olympic year. Or is that overthinking things?