Despicable: Rangers lose ugly to Canucks

It’s rare that a game really annoys me. This one did. In what can best be summarized as a boring clunker, the Rangers fell to the Canucks 2-1 in the first of a three-game Western Canadian swing.

Despite plenty of “puck possession,” they found a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Honestly, it was pathetic. A truly despicable performance from a punch less team that can’t score. Oh. There were chances. Wasted power plays. Near misses. Sloppy play. Not enough edge for the Blueshirts to win in Alain Vigneault’s 999th NHL game coaching against a former team.

The Rangers were by far the better team in the first period outskating, outplaying and outshooting the Canucks 15-7. But they couldn’t get one past Ryan Miller, who turned back the clock to his Buffalo Olympic days. If you can’t score more than one against a washed up goalie who hadn’t been good coming in, you got issues.

Unmistakably, this team cannot score consistently without Derek Stepan. Vigneault has shuffled the deck moving Oscar Lindberg up to center a mismatched top line with Rick Nash and the all but invisible Chris Kreider. Oh. Kreider was out for all 20 of his shifts. He just wasn’t that noticeable. A familiar theme that’s become the norm for a gifted player who is stuck on four goals in 29 games. He is not doing much of anything.

This is supposed to be the year for Kreider. Instead, he’s lost completely. He’s not the same player who once was Vigneault’s “net presence” who mixed it up with goalies by playing on the edge. Sadly, the struggling 24-year old has become tame. From game to game, there’s no consistency from a player who has the tools to be great. Listed at 6-3, 226 pounds, the former Boston College standout who has performed well in the postseason isn’t flourishing in Year 3 under Vigneault. He’s stagnated and even regressed. With 12 points, 61 hits and 60 shots, he’s become puzzling.

It’s hard to just pin it on Kreider. But he really should be doing a lot more at this point of his career. He’s already admitted to being “terrible.” A player with his rare combination of size, skill and speed should be able to make a difference. Even without his center Stepan who is still on the shelf. At some point, he must figure it out.

Kevin Hayes is only in his second season. He too has under performed. There’s no doubting his skating ability and puck possession. He is a tremendous stickhandler who can create offensively for teammates. It’s just that he has a tendency to be too unselfish. Hayes had what looked like a open net for an easy put back which would’ve tied the score in the third. Somehow, he missed. Following tonight, he’s without a goal over the last eight with only an assist. For the season, Hayes is 6-9-15. A respectable output but it sure could be better.

Right now, if you can shutdown Nash, leading scorer Mats Zuccarello and Derick Brassard, you have a pretty good chance of beating the Rangers. Playing with Hayes for a second straight game on the second line, they looked out of sync. Zuccarello had one of his worst games. Brassard wasn’t much better. And Hayes missed a point blank chance.

It might be time for Vigneault to put his top line back together. At least you know they’ll be a threat most shifts. Even on a night they had 33 shots, there were only a handful of players who had strong games. J.T. Miller was the most effective with two shots and five attempts while on the third line with Dominic Moore and Jesper Fast. Miller was one of the few Blueshirts to get the jersey dirty nearly tipping one home on a power play. One of their most effective fore checkers, he deserves more ice-time. If it comes at the expense of Kreider, so be it.

Even Tanner Glass was more visible during his 11 shifts. He delivered two hits injuring a Canuck and also drew a penalty. It’s astonishing that Glass can give Vigneault more in limited ice-time than healthy scratch Emerson Etem. Will he ever get out of jail?

For two periods, nothing much happened. The teams played a sleepless second combining for 15 shots. Things heated up in the third. Following a Moore hooking minor, penalty killer Jarret Stoll was nabbed for a delay of game for staying on top of the puck. He never closed his hand on it. But that didn’t stop refs Ian Walsh and Graham Skilliter from rewarding the Canucks with a two-man advantage.

With Vigneault going nuts over the call, Daniel and Henrik Sedin combined to set up Alex Edler for a blast off the cross bar and in for the game’s first goal at 3:19 of the third. This resulted in Vigneault sarcastically applauding the refs who didn’t take too kindly giving him an unsportsmanlike conduct. An Alex Burrows interference minor helped the Rangers escape further damage.

The period became odder. With the Rangers narrowly missing tying the game, Vancouver defenseman Chris Tanev was nabbed for covering the puck in the crease resulting in a penalty shot. Vigneault went with Dan Boyle, who made it a great decision by out-waiting Miller tucking in a forehand inside the post tying the score with 11:06 left.

But just when it seemed they had the momentum, the Rangers couldn’t deal with prosperity. Instead, what followed was a complete disgrace. A dreadful shift from “top pair” Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi with Vigneault’s “top line” resulted in more Sedin magic. After Henrik passed to Edler at the point, the defenseman made a great shot pass for a neat deflection from Daniel past Henrik Lundqvist giving- allowing the Canucks to reclaim the lead 30 seconds later.

Quite honestly, it was just awful play from all five Rangers skaters. They got pinned in and there was zero communication. Lindberg rotated to the middle instead of going to Daniel who had no trouble getting his stick on Edler’s pass for his 13th of the season. I have no clue what McDonagh and Girardi were doing. Just brutal. Equally as baffling was Vigneault challenging for goalie interference. It wasn’t even close.

The sad aspect is the Canucks gave the Blueshirts chances to tie it. They just weren’t willing to take it. Even with that clown Burrows taking a delay of game minor, the power play was back to Defcon 3. If you had inserted Matthew Broderick’s David character from War Games, maybe they would’ve shown a pulse. But all night, the power play was a abomination. Whether it was Keith Yandle lazily throwing a puck away causing a shorthanded chance or McDonagh doing the same thing, it was ugly.

Most sad was they hardly put up any resistance after Lundqvist was pulled. Instead, you had Burrows outhustling McDonagh and Girardi playing keep away with appreciative Vancouver fans cheering. Of course, Kreider was out there watching. It was embarrassing. When Kreider finally did carry the puck over with his speed, he was unable to create a shot. That describes his season.

It’s not so much that they played poorly. But out of all the games I’ve watched so far, this was by far the most frustrating. Exhausting.

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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