There have been too many nights where you’re left scratching your head. That was indeed the case in the latest puzzling loss. This time, the Rangers blew a two-goal lead in a gut punching 3-2 loss to the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. The defeat was already their eighth in which they’ve blown a lead. A mind numbing statistic for an experienced team coming off last Spring. That is just a distant memory. They’re not that team. Not even close.
The AV squad is ironically a show on MSG. This AV squad finds new ways to lose hockey games. Between the chaos in Toronto early on, the Oiler debacle and tonight’s disgrace, they could easily have 8-10 more points. Instead, the Rangers are a mediocre 11-10-4 with 26 points. Now tied with the Capitals, who defeated the Devils 4-1. Tied for third in a Metropolitan Division dominated by the Islanders and Penguins, they trail by 12 after 25 games played. That is quite a hole they’ve dug. Not only does the division look out of reach but the playoffs aren’t guaranteed. The way they’re playing, they don’t deserve to make it.
At least it’s only December. There’s plenty of season left. Enough time for Alain Vigneault and the coaching staff to get things turned around. Games like tonight have become the norm. A disturbing trend has formed. More often than not, this team can’t put together a 60-minute effort. They also can’t string together consistent stretches. They have only one three-game win streak which came between 10/16-21 over the Canes, Sharks and Devils. By now, they should’ve put together a couple. It reflects poorly on what can best be summed up as an inconsistent roster.
Even a healthy Ryan McDonagh hasn’t helped. So far, the new captain looks eerily similar to Brian Leetch. He still is without a goal and his misplay off a rare faceoff win with 13 seconds left killed away the final seconds. Whether the shoulder is still bugging him or it’s the weight of the ‘C,’ he hasn’t been the same player. Simply put, McDonagh is our best skater. As he goes, so do the Blueshirts. He must rediscover his form.
The only defenseman who’s pulling his own weight is Kevin Klein. Amazingly, he scored his fifth of the season putting the Rangers ahead 1-0. As a team, our D has eight goals. Seven have come from Klein (5) and Dan Boyle (2). Dan Girardi has the other. That’s it. They’re not contributing enough offensively in Vigneault’s system. Klein is also the leading scorer on the D with nine points. McDonagh has six (all assists) and Girardi six (1-5-6). Marc Staal has four assists and John Moore has three helpers. Boyle has two goals. Thirty total points ranks near the bottom. The blueline must start pitching in.
It would help if the power play wasn’t so anemic. How else can you explain that nonsense we saw in the third? Only this team could manage to blow consecutive 5-on-3’s. After falling behind on a goal from a guy I’ve never heard of, the Rangers were handed chance after chance by the Red Wings. A bench minor followed by a high-sticking double minor on Kyle Quincey and a Jonathan Ericsson hi-stick minor which an incensed Detroit coach Mike Babcock blew his top over. It didn’t matter. The only quality chances came off the stick of Marty St. Louis from an angle where he continues to draw iron. He hit the crossbar. That was it.
The rest of the power plays were abominable. The Rangers went 0-for-7. They lost faceoffs consistently and got outworked by a more determined opponent who fed off the crowd. How many times can you see an attacking Ranger try the same ridiculous pass get intercepted and cleared down ice? It was appalling. Vigneault even used his timeout to set up the first two-man advantage. Like clockwork, they lost the draw and had to retreat.
It never should’ve come down to that. Cam Talbot was good early. Continuing to come up with key stops including a huge one on Pavel Datsyuk, he gave his team a lift. They responded by getting the first two on Jimmy Howard. Following Klein’s goal, Derick Brassard sent Rick Nash in on a breakaway for a sweet finish. It was his team-leading 17th that had the Rangers up 2-0 after one.
The Red Wings started coming in the second. Even with Talbot turning them away, they never stopped. Eventually, it was a lazy backcheck by Chris Kreider that allowed Riley Sheahan to beat Talbot. Only 61 seconds later, Luke Glendening got to a Joakim Andersson rebound for a tap in. On the play, Drew Miller went around Matt Hunwick and took the puck to the net. Klein was too late after going to the bench for a new stick. Hayes didn’t pick up Glendening. The play was indicative of how disorganized this team is defensively. They never protect leads. The coverage is atrocious.
The Rangers failed on six straight power plays. The first coming in the final minute of the second on a Brendan Smith holding the stick minor. No matter. They never got the puck to Nash, who had only one other shot aside from his goal. All they did was overpass. I don’t even know why Vigneault insisted on using Kreider (3:33 PP). He’s lost. Between his defensive shortcomings and the inability to finish, he deserves a seat in the press box. I would scratch him Monday and reinsert Anthony Duclair. If Tanner Glass returns, oh joy.
A Brassard turnover allowed the Red Wings to come the other way for the game-winner. Danny DeKeyser sent Tomas Tatar on a two-on-one. He passed for Darren Helm, who beat Talbot to make it 3-2 with 12:20 left. That was it. Despite daring the Rangers to beat them with a penalty fest, it didn’t matter. Somehow, they managed only seven total shots for the third despite all the power plays.
Vigneault pulled Talbot for an extra attacker. They got two shots. One came from McDonagh on a bad angle just to force a Howard save. The other from Mats Zuccarello, who managed a shot from his knees. A Zuccian effort. All for naught. The McDonagh fumble summed up the night.
Now, they return home on my birthday to face the Pens Monday. Afterwards, they hit the road for four including a three-game Northwestern Canadian swing at Vancouver 12/13, Edmonton 12/14 and Calgary 12/16. The trip concludes at Carolina 12/20.
Notes: As expected, the Rangers struggled against the league’s second ranked faceoff team losing 33 of 56 (41 percent). Brassard went 9-and-8 while Derek Stepan lost 13-of-20. Dominic Moore was 4-for-10 and Hayes went 2-for-5. Sheahan led the Wings going 7-and-3 with Glendening 8-and-6, Datsyuk 7-and-6 and Zetterberg 7-and-5. … The win was Mike Babcock’s 500th. It came in his 895th game. Only former Detroit coach Scotty Bowman reached 500 faster doing it in 825.
BONY 3 Stars:
3rd Star-J.T. Miller, NYR (2 SOG, 3 hits including a big one- very active in 11 shifts-8:17)
2nd Star-Cam Talbot, NYR (31 saves incl. 23/25 1st 2 periods-blameless)
1st Star-Jimmy Howard, Wings (27 saves incl. some big ones with his team down 2-0)