McDonagh, Rangers team leaders struggling

Chris Kreider is stopped by Carey Price in a Rangers 3-0 loss to the Canadiens.   AP Photo by Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press MANDATORY CREDIT

Chris Kreider is stopped by Carey Price in a Rangers 3-0 loss to the Canadiens.
AP Photo by Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press MANDATORY CREDIT

It’s only been five games. The Rangers were shutout by Carey Price and the Canadiens 3-0 Thursday night at Bell Centre. It was their second straight loss.

After starting the new season 3-0-0, they’ve scored one goal in the two losses. In each, they ran into good goaltending. Michael Hutchinson stopped 40 of 41 for Winnipeg and Price turned aside all 25. In the last six periods, only Mats Zuccarello has tallied getting his third 6:45 into the first period against the Jets. Since, the Blueshirts have gone 113:15 without a goal.

Slumps happen. What should be an early concern is the lack of finish from Rick Nash and Chris Kreider. Neither has scored. They’ve combined for three assists and 30 shots. Nash has been snake bit getting robbed by Price in the second period with his team trailing by one. Kreider has been inconsistent. He was more active against Montreal battling in front of rival Carey Price all night. He took some good chops from P.K. Subban and even was checked by Price behind the net on a forecheck. Some payback for 2014.

While on the subject of missing players, has anyone seen Ryan McDonagh? The Rangers captain had another substandard game Thursday. He was beaten by aging vet Tomas Fleischmann on the Habs first goal. A play notable for Emerson Etem and Jesper Fast failing to clear the zone. Their feeble attempts allowed Montreal to keep the puck in with David Desharnais finding Fleischmann, who got a step on McDonagh and beat Henrik Lundqvist for the game-winner.

At 26, McDonagh has played a lot of hockey the past two seasons. An integral part of the Blueshirts, he anchors the blueline. Following a Norris caliber ’13-14 in which he posted career highs in goals (14), assists (29) and points (43), his play has slipped. While he still was clearly the team’s best defenseman going plus-23 in ’14-15, his offensive numbers dropped off to eight goals and 25 helpers for 33 points in 71 games. He did miss 11 games due to a separated shoulder. It could explain the drop off.

No one will ever question McDonagh’s toughness. He played with a broken foot the final four games of the Eastern Conference Final against the Lightning. That’s one characteristic you can never question with these Blueshirts. It was the walking wounded in a crushing seven-game series loss with Dan Girardi and Marc Staal also playing with serious injuries that required surgery. Staal with a hairline fracture in his left ankle while Girardi had a bursa sac procedure along with a knee sprain.

The wear and tear could be showing. Neither McDonagh nor Girardi have looked good so far. The latter’s struggles are well documented. A lack of foot speed has been exposed. Girardi’s penchant for sacrificing his body to block shots has its drawbacks. The Rangers Iron Man will do whatever it takes to help the team win. It’s just that he goes down an awful lot risking coverage. It’s a taxing style.

A displeased Alain Vigneault made changes to his D pairs shifting Girardi with Staal while mixing and matching Dan Boyle and Kevin Klein with McDonagh. Keith Yandle split time with Boyle and Klein, who has been the most consistent. Yandle and Klein have been the Rangers’ best which isn’t a positive. They need much better performances from McDonagh, Girardi and Staal, who continues to fall down with regularity due to his lack of mobility.

“We got schooled tonight,” an upset Vigneault told reporters afterwards. “We only created five chances five-on-five. They outplayed us in every area. If it weren’t for our goalie, the score would have been a lot worse.”

He was referring to the ridiculous amount of break ins the speedy Canadiens had. If not for Lundqvist (29 saves), it would’ve been ugly. In particularly, a quick glove kept Montreal from turning it into a laugher. The Habs targeted high glove but Lundqvist was ready. On the two goals he permitted, one was short side on the blown McDonagh coverage while the other from Dale Weise went five-hole after Yandle was tripped.

“I thought Hank played better than Price but we gave them so many opportunities off the rush,” Rangers defenseman Staal told The Record’s Andrew Gross.

“We’ve just got to play smarter, more patient and just start playing together, start playing as five-man units.”

Staal is correct on both accounts. With the exception of the third line which was held in check a second consecutive game, there hasn’t been much consistency. From Nash and Kreider not scoring to Derick Brassard’s laziness to Kevin “Kovalev” Hayes’ reluctance to shoot, the Rangers’ 3-2-0 record is about right despite uneven performances from their team leaders.

McDonagh included. He is without a point in the first five. The defensive anchor must be better along with his teammates. Their attention to detail hasn’t been there. Defensemen and forwards have been getting caught up ice in Vigneault’s aggressive system. When they’re right, someone covers. There have been too many breakdowns. Even in their two wins over Columbus, the defense was spotty. Lundqvist covered up the mistakes.

After playing five games over the first nine days, the Rangers get a much needed two days off to prepare for the rebuilding Devils. The Devils are 0-3-0 and host the Sharks tonight. If they lose, they’ll be without a win in four entering Sunday’s odd 1 PM matinee at MSG. A scheduling glitch going up against the NFL with the Jets hosting the Redskins at the same time.

With a back-to-back Sunday and Monday with the Sharks visiting in the second game, Lundqvist will get a day off. Backup Antti Raanta gets the start against the Devils. If they aren’t sharp in front of Raanta, it could be embarrassing. It’s still a game the Blueshirts should win. They need more from their best players moving forward.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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