Do you want the good news or the bad news first? Let's start with the good. The New York Rangers did not revert back to the poor form they alarmingly showcased for much of the last homestand. They kept Alex Ovechkin from lighting the lamp against them for the 9th game in a row, and were a +1 on special teams.
The bad news? It wasn't enough. The Rangers never led, and ultimately fell to the Washington Capitals 3-2.
It was far from a bad effort. In fact, if you were to stack it up against the entirety of the previous 9 game homestand, this most recent display would've certainly landed in the Rangers top 3 or 4. The forecheck was buzzing yet again, especially in the first two periods, which saw the Rangers outshoot the Caps 32-20.
However, despite the wide disparity in shots and zone time, the Blueshirts still trailed after 2.
Two mistakes put them in a hole. One, a turnover by Rick Nash, who struggled again, which forced the big winger to haul down Mike Green and head to the box. It was a blunder for sure–both the turnover and penalty–but if the Rangers kill off the ensuing power play, it goes largely unnoticed. Problem is, they didn't, and Green made the Blueshirts pay on a blast from the point at 6:55 of the opening stanza.
The second Caps goal was set up by a rare misplay by stalwart Ryan McDonagh. After several consecutive shifts of holding on for dear life–caused by good work from the Nash-Stepan-Kreider and Hagelin-Miller-Pouliot units–Washington countered when Nicklas Backstrom pounced on a bouncing puck that eluded McDonagh, cruised in on a partial breakaway, and beat Cam Talbot low blocker on a shot from the right circle late in the second.
The Rangers, despite out-chancing the Capitals and dictating possession through two, would trail because of that late goal. They should've been up, but because of Washington's ability to cash in on the Rangers' mistakes, and the Blueshirt's inability to do the same with regularity, the score was 2-1 in favor of the Caps.
The Rangers, to their credit, kept fighting back. Carl Hagelin tied it with a shorthanded goal just 17 seconds into the third period, when he took a feed from Ryan McDonagh on the defensive side of the red line, pulled away from John Carlson, and slipped a backhand 5-hole on Philipp Grubauer.
However, this time the Capitals showed some push back, and responded with their best stretch since early in the first. Play remained fairly even for most of the 3rd, until at 14:15, Mats Zuccarello and Troy Brouwer took matching minors for slashing. It was the second penalty of the game for Zuccarello, who had one of his quietest performances in a while.
36 seconds into the ensuing 4-on-4, the Caps struck for the game winner, when Eric Fehr steamed down the right wing and snapped a a 40-foot wrister past Talbot's blocker. Zuccarello, whose penalty set up the 4-on-4, a situation that doesn't favor the Rangers against a skilled team like Washington, did not see the ice much–if at all–after the goal.
As for Cam Talbot, let's just say it would be a major shock if Henrik Lundqvist isn't back in net Sunday night in Tampa. Talbot didn't play poorly, but he wasn't rock-solid either. Fehr's game winner, in particular, is a shot you'd like to see your goalie stop–something Talbot seemed very aware of, remarking:
“That’s a game that we probably should have won based on our effort. I’ve got to come up with another save."
Green's goal too, was somewhat questionable. The puck may have ticked off a Rangers' stick at the top of the circle and changed direction slightly, but with little traffic in front, it's a stoppable shot that squeaked past Talbot's glove.
For the Rangers, it's a familiar problem: Allow 3 or more goals, and it's going to be difficult to manufacture victories. With Hagelin's marker, there's now a 3-way tie for the team lead in goals. Those players, Hagelin, Chris Kreider, and Brad Richards, all have 9.
It's 39 games into the season, and the Rangers don't have a single player in double digits in goals. Only two healthy players–Kreider and Hagelin–are even on pace for 20. Notice anyone missing from that list? Paging Rick Nash….
-Anton Stralman left the game in the first, came back, and then left for good in the second. The injury isn't considered to be serious, but the Rangers have recalled defenseman Connor Allen from Hartford, apparently just in case.
-Benoit Pouliot, who scored the Rangers first goal off a nice tip in front on the PP, now has points in a career-high 6 games in a row.
-Next time you complain about Michael Del Zotto or John Moore, take a close look at the Caps third pair of John Erskine and Steve Oleksy, and remember how fortunate you really are.
-The Capitals are not that impressive. Spending as much time as they do in their own zone not only isn't a recipe for success, but it also marginalizes Ovechkin and Backstrom for long stretches of play.
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