NEW YORK — It has been a while since goaltender Craig Anderson had to contend with the glare of the sun at a hockey practice.
Welcome to the Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers in New York City, one of the few available slabs of ice for a visiting NHL club like the Ottawa Senators; a second-story rink with giant glass panels and a view of the skyline while players whirl about on a sheet that rents for $700-an-hour in prime time.
To reach the rink, players walked through the lobby in full gear Friday afternoon, like kids in a minor hockey tournament instead of Stanley Cup performers looking to rebound from a 4-2, Game 1 loss to the New York Rangers.
“I hope we’re real lousy today, so we save it for (Saturday),” Senators general manager Bryan Murray said, cracking a smile. It’s an old superstition in hockey, if not theatre — poor rehearsal, great show when it counts.
While the Senators were trying to be gracious about the Rangers’ performance in the series opener, they didn’t feel they held up their end of the bargain, sensing they lost it more than the Rangers won it.
Head coach Paul MacLean said his team can’t “hand them free goals,” and centre Jason Spezza referred to an eight-minute span in which Ottawa “gave them the game.”
Not surprisingly, the game was replayed with a different slant here.
“Capt. Clutch” screamed the New York Post headline, in reference and deference to Rangers captain Ryan Callahan, one of four Rangers goal scorers on Thursday night. Callahan and Brad Richards, two of the best Rangers, both had nine game-winning goals for the Blueshirts this season.
Murray would like to see his team get more hits on both Callahan and Richards to get them off their game.
The Senators’ GM also had a suggestion for how to free up some space for Erik Karlsson, Ottawa’s Norris Trophy candidate and offensive trigger who was held off the scoresheet and targeted physically by the Rangers.
“He has got to get to the puck first and move it quickly,” Murray said. If the Senators can spend more time in the Rangers’ zone, they are going to try to get more shots through to goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers live for the pain of blocking shots, ranking among the league leaders in the department, so look for the Senators to try to delay occasionally and sneak a pass across ice at the last second.
Karlsson did not skate on Friday, probably to avoid a bunch of questions as much as anything. If the Senators are going to get back in this series, they need No. 65 to make the kind of impact he had all season.
From where he stands, back in the blue paint of the goal crease, Anderson would like to see Ottawa’s defencemen and forwards try to slow up the Rangers’ forecheckers “and keep them from making big hits” on Karlsson.
“It may take him a few shifts to get his rhythm,” Anderson said, “but he’s our best player. When he’s going, things go well for us.”
MacLean said a lot of it comes from the player, not his teammates.
“I think there’s things Erik can do to free himself up as well,” MacLean said. “I don’t think Erik skated as well as Erik has the ability to skate.”
The kid played 24 minutes 23 seconds, the most ice time of any Senator and nearly matching the 25:04 of Ryan McDonagh and 26:41 of Dan Girardi, New York’s defensive stalwarts. That McDonagh and Girardi combined for seven blocked shots and just one shot on goal tells you what you need to know about their style of play.
MacLean leaned on his veteran defencemen in the opener, especially in the early rotations. Remember when rookie Jared Cowen was getting top pair minutes? He played just 15:58 in Game 1 and was on for three New York goals. Veterans Sergei Gonchar, Chris Phillips and Filip Kuba all saw more ice than Cowen, who felt he played better than the stats showed.
The rest of the off-day chatter followed the familiar pattern of teams coming off a loss. Talk about not rushing passes in the defensive zone, getting more pucks, more traffic in front of King Henrik in the Rangers’ net, pushing to the scoring areas instead of playing on the outside.
Spezza used a word that neatly summarized the difference in Game 1 between the confident Rangers and the slightly jittery Senators: composure.
Ottawa’s top centre would like to see everyone have “a little bit of composure” with the puck. Stop being jumpy. Let the puck settle on that soft Madison Square Garden ice. Use the time available.
If their young players relax and play, the Senators of 2011-12 just might resurface.