There wasn’t a fairytale start to the Alexis Lafreniere era for the New York Rangers.
After months of anticipation and excitement, Alexis Lafreniere finally made his NHL debut for the New York Rangers on Thursday but it wasn’t the moment player or fans would have dreamt of.
Nope, the New York Islanders put paid to that after taking full advantage of a Rangers team that looked like they hadn’t skated together at all during Training Camp, lighting the lamp four times with Semyon Varlamov pitching a shutout with 24 saves.
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It was the ultimate crash back to earth moment for a fanbase that had been longing for this moment for months, craving a sight of the new face of the franchise in that iconic Rangers jersey for the very first time.
However, we probably should have had a feeling that things weren’t going to go to plan given that, well, let’s face it, 2021 is proving to be an exact carbon copy of 2020 and nothing is unfolding as we would hope or like.
From that image of Lafreniere checking out an empty Madison Square Garden to being hit with the news that Jack Johnson and Tony DeAngelo were on the same pairing together – yes, that actually happened – everything was set up for an ugly fall.
Still hope for Alexis Lafreniere and the New York Rangers
And so it proved with Mathew Barzal proving why Johnson and DeAngelo shouldn’t be on the ice together, while Anders Lee scored two goals and Brock Nelson also lit the lamp to cap off what was a miserable opening night for the Rangers, instantly shredding through the feel-good factor that had been building up around MSG following another blockbuster offseason.
Of course, it is just one game – although in a 56-game schedule every contest is important – and the Blueshirts have a chance to right the ship when they take on the Islanders again on Saturday where revenge will be the main dish of the day.
Even if the Rangers can get their first win in 2020-21 this weekend, though, it is too late to change what was a nightmare start to the Alexis Lafreniere era in New York, which can still be golden of course but everyone associated with the franchise today will be feeling a little deflated.
Include Lafreniere in that category too who, despite what some may say, wasn’t that bad on his NHL debut although he was held without a point – there was to be no fairytale four-goal debut as was the case for Toronto Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews a few years ago.
Lafreniere did show flashes of the ability that makes him a generational talent and, in my opinion, he was one of the most dynamic players on the ice for the Rangers. He logged 15:21 of TOI including 1:36 on the power play and 2:10 on the penalty kill, while driving to the net and showing the hunger to try and make things happen.
He started on the third-line with Filip Chytil and Julien Gauthier with Head Coach David Quinn known for easing rookies in, but Lafreniere will be bumped up to the top-six for the revenge game against the Islanders and, with better line-mates and more minutes, we could see the true start of the Alexis Lafreniere era.
Again, last night didn’t pan out the way anyone connected with the New York Rangers would have wanted, including rookie defenseman K’Andre Miller who also made his NHL debut and committed a turnover that led to the Islanders’ second goal, but it is just one game and something you could maybe put down to nerves.
After all, it was still a huge night for Lafreniere and Miller despite there being no fans in attendance – and an empty MSG just doesn’t feel or look right right by the way – and they are going to make mistakes. Even Lafreniere, who could be one of the best talents to come out of the Draft in recent years, is going to make his fair share of mistakes in 2020-21 and that is nothing to freak out about.
I mean, it probably adds fuel to the fire when you consider that Alexander Romanov had a stellar NHL debut for the Montreal Canadiens, as did Kirill Kaprizov who had a three-point night for the Minnesota Wild including the OT winner against the LA Kings, but it is unfair to compare when all three were used in different situations.
So, while Opening Night and the official start of the Alexis Lafreniere era went about as bad as it could get for the New York Rangers, things can only go up and the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft should only be better for what was a tough introduction to life in the National Hockey League.