On a memorable night for Glen Sather, it was anything but for the Rangers. Ugly would be one way to summarize a 7-5 loss to the Oilers in Edmonton. Another adjective would be putrid. Disgraceful.
This was like those games in the Dark Ages between ’97-98 thru ’03-04. It was a total mess. There’s no point in doing a full recap because it would take too long. So let’s cut to the chase.
The story was the horrible play from “top pair” Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi. They went a combined minus-seven and were victimized on several Oilers goals. It was a truly awful display from a shutdown tandem that got exploited by one of the league’s fastest teams. I didn’t get why Alain Vigneault kept force feeding the match-up in his 1,000th career game. It blew up in his face literally.
There was a Chris Kreider sighting. On a night he still took two penalties including a phantom one that led to the first of three Lauri Korpikoski goals. Yes. He scored his first and only career hat trick against the team that selected him as part of the Brian Leetch deal. At least Kreider showed flashes of greatness when he broke in and scored a highlight reel goal at the start of the second period. Playing with Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Hayes, he had a more active game tallying a goal and assist.
It was also the game where Vigneault kept changing his lines. At one point, he had Rick Nash with Jarret Stoll and Kevin Hayes. But eventually settled on Stoll back with Dominic Moore and Tanner Glass. Derick Brassard played mostly with Nash and J.T. Miller. Oscar Lindberg with Emerson Etem and Jesper Fast. The lines looked good enough to keep them together for Calgary tonight.
Dylan McIlrath recorded his first NHL point. He made a smart pinch and threw a low wrist shot towards the net that Kreider deflected off Anders Nilsson right to Zuccarello for his team-leading 12th goal. It was another example of McIlrath showing he is capable of making good reads in the offensive zone. Along with partner Keith Yandle, he had another strong night. They are the one D pair who shouldn’t be touched.
Nash had a incomplete game. Despite finally getting off the snide tying the contest at 5-all with 1:46 left in regulation, he was guilty on three Edmonton goals. Ironically, McDonagh and Girardi were caught out of position behind the net on two with Girardi out for all three. Nash failed to take the man in front. The forwards did too much puck watching. On Darnell Nurse’s goal that made it 5-3, Miller watched him score instead of picking him up.
It really was an ugly display of how not to hockey. On goals from Kreider and Brassard in a better second, the Rangers recovered from a poor first to draw even at 3-3. But inexplicably, with Kreider just out of the penalty box for a selfish retaliation roughing minor Nash fell down with McDonagh and Girardi again behind the net allowing Taylor Hall to beat Henrik Lundqvist 18 seconds into the third. Nurse chased him from Hall and budding sophomore Leon Draisaitl 2:22 later.
Following the goalie change with Antti Raanta replacing Lundqvist (5 GA on 33 shots), the Blueshirts responded by carrying the play. They got the next seven shots. A Nash rocket went off the goalpost allowing Brassard to pot his second of the game. With Teddy Purcell off for a silly roughing retaliation on McDonagh with under two minutes left, Nash got to a Dan Boyle rebound and beat Nilsson for his 11th at 18:15. Brassard did a great job winning the draw back to McDonagh who set up Boyle for the shot.
But on the next shift, Vigneault opted to go with McDonagh and Boyle. He had two-thirds of the fourth line with Stoll, Moore and Fast against the Oilers top line. The conservative strategy backfired. McDonagh made an awful pinch in the neutral zone and then Stoll whiffed on a pass causing a 2-on-1 Oilers break-in. Draisaitl dished across for Hall, whose backhand beat Raanta with 12 seconds later for the stunning game-winner.
Korpikoski completed his hat trick when his turnaround shot from inside his own blueline found twine.
There’s not much left to say. It’s hard to believe how bad McDonagh and Girardi were. But this was always gonna be a bad match-up. It’s the responsibility of Vigneault and top assistant Ulf Samuelsson to adjust the defense pairings. They failed miserably.