It takes a lot to get me going. The final two periods of a listless performance by the Rangers against the Capitals did it. I am sick and tired of seeing better teams brutalize this team. It’s understandable that the Caps prevailed 4-1, easily taking apart the Rangers in the second to last meeting of the regular season between the old Patrick rivals. The last one isn’t until April 5 at Washington.
The thing that really blew my top is how much bigger and more physical Caps ran around doing whatever they wanted. It was embarrassing. In Kevin Shattenkirk’s debut no less, he got to see how soft his potential future team could be if he signs with them this summer. Wearing number 22, the New Rochelle, New York native took 23 shifts receiving 17:57 with four shots and six attempts. He didn’t register a point.
With new acquisition Brendan Smith traveling from Vancouver, Hartford call up Steven Kampfer played his first game of the season for the Rangers. Paired with Nick Holden, he blocked three shots and stuck his nose in when Daniel Winnik ran Henrik Lundqvist without a penalty called. How there wasn’t a goalie interference call is inexplicable. At least Kampfer showed some balls.
The Caps got away with a lot of stick swinging and whacks led by their captain Alexander Ovechkin. I didn’t realize you were allowed to crosscheck and slash guys repeatedly. Frequent target Marc Staal finally had seen enough going back at him with a cross check for a retaliatory penalty which his teammates killed off. Ovechkin hit everyone. Of his six hits, he had three bone crushers including one on Jesper Fast that sent him to the locker room in the third period. Fast didn’t return.
Washington was only credited with 19 hits. They actually gave the Rangers two more. But the Caps’ hits were much harder making an impact. Similar to what Columbus did last game. Eventually, that physical style can have a long-term affect.
The Rangers scored their lone goal in a good first thanks to a great passing play. J.T. Miller started it passing for a pinching Adam Clendening, who made a sweet dish in front for a cutting Brady Skjei for a nice redirect for his third goal at 5:29. But in a period they controlled holding an 11-8 shots advantage, the Rangers hurt themselves by again seeing their collective shadow on the power play. The Caps took the only two penalties. Of course, the Rangers didn’t score. They went 0-for-4. It never fails.
When you face a team like the Caps, the chances you don’t take are usually the ones that come back to haunt you. Washington was much sharper in a dominant second outscoring the Rangers 2-0 and out-shooting them 19-9. They are a relentless team who can flat out attack. They began dictating puck possession and peppering Lundqvist. He made some dandy saves including a clutch glove stop on one of those Ovechkin bombs from his spot on a power play. Nobody knows him better than Henrik.
The problem was the defense finally broke down. Marcus Johansson scored the first of two when he was able to get to a loose rebound of a Dmitry Orlov shot Lundqvist couldn’t control to tie the score. Holden was late on the coverage. Interestingly, the goal followed up Clendening standing up for himself in a minor scrap against Winnik. He continues to show more than other veteran D who aren’t in the lineup. That pass on Skjei’s goal was a highlight.
Despite a major territory edge by the Caps, the game was still tied late in the second until Rangers killer Brett Connolly scored on a fluke play. Following another Rangers power failure in which Brandon Pirri just wouldn’t shoot the puck preferring to fake shot and drive fans batty including me, Connolly was able to surprise everyone by scoring an odd rebound goal off a Matt Niskanen shot in front. It was stunning.
Maybe not as much as a lengthy video review on a successful coach’s challenge by Barry Trotz which negated an apparent Michael Grabner goal that would’ve put the Rangers up 2-1. He challenged for offside. I didn’t see it live. But seeing the replay during the second intermission, I was in disbelief that they took it away. They really need to make an adjustment to the offside challenge. You could barely tell that Grabner’s skate was in mid-air to reverse the call. It is an absolute joke of a rule.
I’ve had it with these silly challenges that take forever. If it takes that freaking long, don’t bother reviewing it. It kills the game’s momentum and annoys everyone watching. I don’t care who your rooting interest was tonight. It’s a garbage rule that must be changed. That’s not why they lost either. Joe Micheletti didn’t take Steve Valiquette’s bait. It definitely hurt the Rangers’ momentum. But didn’t fully explain another awful second with that bust Connolly scoring against them again. Is there any other team he can torture?
What really put me in a foul mood was the third. A period that summarized the difference between the two teams. Following a Mats Zuccarello block, a Staal turnover in the neutral zone allowed Niskanen to start a transition to the dangerous Evgeny Kuznetsov. He absolutely made the Rangers look bad skating in and making a mesmerizing backhand saucer feed for a nice Johansson tip home for his 21st which made it 3-1 at 1:15. In his return, Niskanen was the Caps best defenseman. Not Shattenkirk or John Carlson. He’s a really good player who is much better defensively than the other two. He was instrumental on two of their goals finishing with two assists.
Let’s put it this way. It’s going to be really tough for anyone to beat the Caps four out of seven in the East. That includes the Pens. Washington is by far the deepest team and now boasts three lethal weapons on the right side of their blue line. Plus Orlov and Nate Schmidt are underrated. So is Karl Alzner, who got over 23 minutes. They’re without Brooks Orpik, who for all his experience and physicality is a liability skating wise. They probably don’t need him.
When the Caps weren’t scoring or forcing Lundqvist into tough saves- did he ever have a routine one in the two periods I watched- they were beating the Rangers up. Even their penalties were tough with Nicklas Backstrom knocking down Rick Nash, who got up and was irate. There was a lot of edge in this game. Plenty of animosity. These teams don’t like each other.
The biggest problem for the Blueshirts is they can’t score on the power play. What are they now? One for their last 30? I am not bothering. It’s downright laughable. Opponents know they can take liberties with Alain Vigneault’s team because:
A.They won’t make them pay on the scoreboard.
B.No one ever goes back enough to send a message.
When Zuccarello is your toughest player at 5-foot nothing, that is sad. He was the only one to run Braden Holtby and it wasn’t intentional. It’s because he gets his nose dirty. He goes to the hard areas. When is the last time Chris Kreider did? Kreider hasn’t delivered a big check in quite a while. He can’t just disappear. He needs to be a factor in these games. The Rangers are counting on him. Not for his defense which remains cloudy.
Derek Stepan’s goal drought is up to 18 straight. He got brutalized in the first on a big hit in the corner. He limped off and went to the room. Somehow, he returned and played over 20 minutes. Stepan always competes hard. But he needs a goal badly for his confidence. He expressed frustration following the Columbus loss about needing to score. On one set up, he almost scored on a power play. But the puck just didn’t bounce his way.
Due to Mika Zibanejad not being able to play, Vigneault kept Stepan, Nash and Jimmy Vesey together. I fail to see how they can stay intact where there isn’t enough production. Interestingly, the original lineup had Miller slated to move up with Stepan. A suggestion I made on Twitter. Instead, Miller centered the third line while Kevin Hayes had another tough night with Kreider and Zuccarello. They went a combined minus-five.
I continue to like what I see from Oscar Lindberg. He’s much more active during shifts both offensively and defensively. But Vigneault still isn’t rewarding him. He continues to roll out the same ineffective power play units. That one sequence where Pirri pulled up rather than shooting letting the defender catch him was a joke. For good measure, he faked twice and then had one shot blocked. Just SHOOT THE DAMN PUCK! If he refuses, just get rid of him. He’s useless. One shot on goal for Pirri.
To make room on the roster, Pavel Buchnevich was sent down to Hartford. For now, he’ll probably stay down because Kampfer is the extra defenseman until Kevin Klein is ready. Buchnevich needs to play. If it means he does with the Wolf Pack this weekend, fine. As long as it’s not permanent.
The final straw for me was watching that annoying pest Tom Wilson sucker Ryan McDonagh into an interference penalty in the offensive zone. Vigneault pulled Lundqvist early with over three minutes left. With Wilson looking to get a step, McDonagh interfered with him. After that dope got up, he didn’t react but grinned and laughed and talked trash. I wish someone would knock him into next week.
But on a very vanilla team that lacks grit, it’s not possible. Unless Jeff Gorton adds some grit for the fourth line, it’s going to be the same story this Spring. Opponents know the Rangers weakness. When Glenn Healy can see it and call it out during a segment, that is sad. Then for good measure, Backstrom had a seeing eye shot deflect in past a frustrated Lundqvist, reemphasizing why you should shoot the puck if you’re in a good position. Not this team. Never.
There’s a lot not to like. Even if they are a good team, the Rangers remain flawed. I’m afraid that fatal flaw will hurt them come playoff time. No matter who the opponent is, they’ll be tougher. There’s no guarantee even if they draw the Atlantic.
No wonder I got annoyed. This team needs toughness badly. I’m tired of seeing them get brutalized. Enough already. If that’s how they’re gonna play with their tails between their legs, do us a favor. Just forfeit the first round and refund fans. Not kidding.