Just like in year’s past and the perennial jokes involving the New York Rangers being the team to play against when in the midst of a slump, the Ottawa Senators came into Madison Square Garden, having lost eight out of their last ten, and having not scored since a first period three games ago. If that wasn’t enough, Chris Kelly, their third line center who has been struggling horrendously all season, had not scored in fifteen games. Well, not only did Kelly and the not-so sensational Senators snap their goal droughts, but they won as well, handing the Rangers an embarrassing 3-1 loss. The Rangers were the more rested team, and the hotter team, but none of that seemed to matter, as the Rangers never put together any solid stretches of pressure in the offensive zone.
- First Period: To describe how the Rangers played in the first period, let me just say that I wish I could have been a fly on the wall in the locker room during the intermission. For nearly the entire twenty minutes, the Senators kept them pinned in their own zone, and not let them get anything going in the neutral zone either. The Senators really did not get any glorious scoring chances themselves, but it took the Rangers nearly eighteen minutes to get their first sustained pressure of the period. Prior to that, they had a failed 3-on-1 opportunity when Derek Stepan shot the puck over the top of the net. Other than those two instances, the Rangers looked horrible. John Tortorella even had to call a timeout just four minutes in, to try to wake up his team, but it was to no avail. It really was mind-boggling how awful they looked, especially when considering the Senators played last night in Ottawa (less than 24 hours ago) and the Rangers had the night off—it looked the other way around. The shot totals would end with a 10-5 advantage to the Senators, with both Pascal Leclaire and Henrik Lundqvist being perfect, but neither of them faced any truly difficult shots. At the period’s end, the Senators goal scoring drought eclipsed 200 minutes—roughly three games and a period.
- Second Period: If Tortorella did any yelling between periods, the Rangers did not pay him any mind for the first half of the second period. They continued their lethargic play and had a chance to turn it around with an early powerplay, but instead of scoring, they allowed themselves to be scored on, when Chris Kelley snapped his 15 game goal scoring drought with a shorthanded goal. For Ottawa, it would be their first goal in 206 minutes. Once again, the Rangers prove to be the perfect remedy for struggling teams. This goal, by the way, would come within thirty seconds of Marian Gaborik being tripped by Jarkko Ruutu, very obviously, when his stick went between his legs and spun him to the ground. The incident would not be called, and it would cost the Rangers a goal. As the period continued, the Rangers play would get better. Ironically, they would tie the game while shorthanded themselves, when Brandon Prust (3) came in on a 2-on-1 and flicked a wrist shot over the shoulder of Leclaire. Assists would go to Brian Boyle and Dan Girardi. With the way Prust has played this season, I would seriously consider taking the “A” from Staal and giving it to him, as he has clearly earned more recognition. He plays with heart every night, with his checking and fighting, and has been putting pucks in the back of the net of late. Staal has struggled this season and has not given me any reason to hold on to the letter. Later in the period, the officiating would continue to be shaky. Ruslan Fedotenko knocked Leclaire over to no call, after Lundqvist had been knocked down twice earlier with no call. Then Gaborik would have a breakaway and be tripped, again, before getting being able to get a shot on goal, but that would not be called either. Lundqvist would have an easy period, and the Senators hit two posts. Meanwhile, Leclaire put on a show with several nice stops, including one on a Dubinsky deflection and the other stopping Staal on a 3-on-1.
- Third Period: The Rangers would have plenty of chances to win this game, with back to back powerplays to start the third, but they would fail to do so. They put plenty of pucks on net, but Leclaire was terrific, and kept the Rangers to only one goal. For virtually the entire period, play went back and forth and looked like it was headed to overtime. Then with just over two minutes to go, Jarkko Ruutu, two minutes removed from a world-class dive behind the Rangers’ net, set up Chris Kelly who beat Lundqvist over the shoulder for his second of the game. Then with just under a second remaining in the game, Kelly would get himself the hat trick goal and ice the game for the Senators 3-1. It was moments earlier when Lundqvist had smothered the puck, and Ruutu poked at it, which caused Del Zotto to shove him, sending the dirty Finnish player sprawling to the ice on an obvious dive. Fedotenko also went at it with Chris Neil and wanted to fight, but neither of them threw a punch. Earlier in the period, Alex Frolov would have a tremendous chance while standing in the crease, with the puck on his stick and the net wide open, but he hesitated and shot the puck right into Leclaire’s pads. This was a game that the Rangers defeated themselves in. There are no excuses for such atrocious play, considering they were the more well-rested team.
It seems every week or so, I am saying that this is “just one of those games” where certain things go wrong to contribute to a Ranger loss. Once again I am looking to find some consistency with this team, and again I find none. The Rangers had spurts where they had good chances, but they chose to shoot low on Leclaire, a player who is fantastic with his legs, and weak with his upper body. The only puck to beat him tonight was over his shoulder.
The first line was invisible and there was no hard work or aggression from Callahan or Dubinsky. As I mentioned earlier, the Rangers had no excuse to look as tired and slow as they did. Ottawa was not too good themselves, but they capitalized on the Rangers’ mistakes, including the game winning goal when Kelly was allowed to skate to within just feet of Lundqvist unopposed.
The Rangers will now have until Thursday to figure out how to put together a solid sixty minutes. They are coming off two straight wins versus the Islanders, the worst team in hockey, and were barely able to beat them, with each of those coming down to the wire. The Rangers should really be worried about their season, because they have not played well against the good teams, and they have played games like this against the bad, mediocre, and struggling teams.