Caps humiliate listless Rangers 7-3

Justin Williams, Henrik Lundqvist

Justin Williams converts one of two goals past a helpless Henrik Lundqvist in a Caps’ 7-3 humiliation of the Rangers. AP Photo by Seth Wenig/Getty Images

It was already bad enough. Just call the latest defeat Capital Punishment. After they took a 3-1 lead, a listless Rangers allowed six unanswered goals in a humiliating 7-3 loss at MSG. It was their 10th loss in the last 13.

Facing a familiar division rival they’ve had success against, they couldn’t stop the bleeding. Even after playing their best period in a long time, it wasn’t enough to prevent a total meltdown. Right now, they’re a mess psychologically. At any given moment, they can fall apart. For the eighth time this season, the Rangers gave up consecutive goals in less than a two-minute span.

Unfortunately, they are a fragile team. Even if the leadership led by captain Ryan McDonagh and coach Alain Vigneault don’t agree. Our eyes tell us otherwise. There have been too many collapses. Way too many defensive breakdowns. A whole lot of blown assignments from a normally unflappable team that’s experienced enough to know better.

Nobody would argue that they’ve played a lot of hockey. The Rangers have been very busy this month. They played for the fourth time in the last six days losing for a third straight time. In the three defeats, they’ve been outscored 17-7. Twice, the starting goalie has been pulled including a shell shocked Henrik Lundqvist tonight after giving up five goals on 24 shots. It marked the fourth time over the last five that a Ranger goalie has allowed at least five goals.

Lundqvist has been in for three of those. He has not been himself lately. Watching him answer questions from MSG’s John Giannone in the post game, he looks mentally exhausted. Why wouldn’t he be? The defense has broken down. Granted. They’re still minus Kevin Klein and Dan Girardi, who at least would’ve accounted for a wide open Alex Ovechkin on the game-winning power play tally in a four-goal second period barrage by the Caps.

The good news is they have one more game before the Christmas break. It comes at home Tuesday against the Ducks who visit the Islanders tomorrow at Barclays Center. If the Blueshirts can’t win that one against what should be a tired opponent that’s had their own struggles, so be it. They will get five days off which should allow for a mental break along with some much needed practice time. To end the calendar year, they visit Nashville on Dec. 28 and the Lightning Dec. 30. They conclude a three-game road trip at Florida on January 2, 2016.

Encouraging was that after the first of two goals from Justin Williams, they responded with three consecutive goals to take a 3-1 lead after one period. J.T. Miller, Chris Kreider and Dan Boyle (power play) all scored within a 4:21 span. First, Miller took a Rick Nash feed and skated around the Washington D and beat Braden Holtby with his seventh. One of the few players playing well, he now has five points over the last five.

Over two minutes later, Kreider took a Jesper Fast feed in the slot and undressed John Carlson and Holtby with a sweet forehand deke for his sixth. Marc Staal added a helper.

Then on the power play, Boyle continued his turnaround with a nice one-time blast from McDonagh that beat Holtby to make it 3-1 at with 1:57 left in the period. Boyle now has six points (4-2-6) over his last seven. He’s certainly been a bright spot and is no longer a candidate that should sit when Klein and Girardi return. The trouble is neither is Dylan McIlrath. Vigneault will be faced with a tough decision regarding Girardi and Staal, who was beaten badly on one Caps goal.

One thing about this team. They are very suspect defensively. Even after coming out with a two-goal lead, I didn’t feel very safe. Sure enough, when Derek Stepan failed to bury a wide open opportunity for a three-goal lead early in the second, it came back to bite them.

The Caps completely took over scoring four times on 17 shots. It was ugly. The first goal came on a bad change. Dominic Moore was late getting on which allowed Evgeny Kuznetsov to snap out of a mini-slump when he got to a Dmitry Orlov rebound and send a backhand top shelf past Lundqvist at 5:25. Less than two minutes later, Nicklas Backstrom wisely fired a diagonal pass off the back boards which a faster Oshie beat Staal to going around for a backhand that deflected off McIlrath to tie the score at 7:01.

The Rangers showed a little push back with a strong shift that generated a scoring chance. But they were unable to go ahead. Tanner Glass also had a good shift while on the third line mixing it up with Caps antagonist Tom Wilson. Each went off for matching roughing double minors. That Glass was again one of their most effective players is sad. Even though his line was on for two goals against, neither was his fault.

Hartford call up Chris Summers took a bad penalty. He truly was awful. The direct cause of two goals, he and partner Boyle were on for three goals against including a Washington power play goal. With Summers in the box, it didn’t take long for Backstrom and Marcus Johansson to set up Ovechkin for one of his patented wristers that went high glove. Normally, that’s a shot Lundqvist stops but his confidence is clearly shaken.

With Oscar Lindberg off for his second undisciplined penalty in the final minute of the second, Ovechkin had two more point blank opportunities. It was sad. I guess no Girardi means no Ranger defenseman can front him. In a truly pathetic display, they left Williams all alone in front for an easy finish making it 5-3 with a minute left.

At that point, Vigneault gave Lundqvist the rest of the night off. In came 24-year old rookie Magnus Hellberg. If he didn’t know the true definition of hell, it came early in the third when the Caps greeted him by scoring on their first two shots of the period.

First, Jason Chimera took advantage of a bad pinch by Keith Yandle on a Ranger power play to score shorthanded. He walked in and used a nice forehand deke that emulated a shootout move before going top shelf. Finally, Summers turned over the puck behind his own net allowing Kuznetsov to easily find Johansson for a cookie 2:10 later.

That concluded the scoring. For almost the rest of the third, a visibly shaken Blueshirts looked like they gave up. I know they didn’t. But you could tell that their heads were not into it.

Somehow during this mess on a night where MSG did what else but celebrate Vigneault’s 1,000th career NHL game behind the bench (when do they not over celebrate in this place), the coach never made one line switch. He did try McIlrath with Staal without much success. But not one different line combo on a night when he had Mats Zuccarello with the lost Kevin Hayes who failed miserably on Oshie’s goal leaving him for a gimme. At this point, Hayes should sit. He’s been god awful. One game off might help. He has been the worst forward. It’s time.

BONY 3 Stars:

3rd Star-Evgeny Kuznetsov, Caps (goal-10th, assist, 11-and-7 on draws, +3 in 21 shifts-18:36)

2nd Star-Nicklas Backstrom, Caps (3 assists, even in 24 shifts-16:53)

1st Star-Justin Williams, Caps (2 goals-9, 10, assist, +2 in 23 shifts-17:15-proven winner)

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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