Rangers/Canadiens set following shutout loss to Caps


Kreider tying marker

Chris Kreider celebrates his tying goal late in regulation that sent Game 3 to overtime in the 2014 Eastern Conference Final. It’s Rangers and Canadiens again in the 2017 first round of the NHL Playoffs.

In a game that meant nothing, the Rangers were predictably shutout by the Caps 2-0. On a night coach Alain Vigneault opted to rest six players including Ryan McDonagh, Brady Skjei and Nick Holden, they lost to a team that dressed everyone except John Carlson. That allowed Washington to clinch a second straight Presidents Trophy.

The Caps goals came from Justin Williams on the power play (originally credited to Alex Ovechkin) and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Braden Holtby stopped all 24 shots (did he even break a sweat) for his NHL leading ninth shutout. Along with a sturdy defense that gave a Rangers B lineup nothing, that was enough to wrap up home ice for the playoffs.

Truth be told, the Blueshirts who did play didn’t play too badly. They gave an honest effort allowing only 25 shots on losing starter Henrik Lundqvist. If they play like that against Montreal, then they might stand a chance. Lundqvist finished with 23 stops in another start. With the first round finally set, he should get a game off this weekend against either Ottawa or Pittsburgh.

It would also be wise if they gave Marc Staal a breather. He doesn’t have to play back-to-back games. Neither does Dan Girardi even though he likes to play to stay sharp now that he’s healthy. Mats Zuccarello, Rick Nash and Jesper Fast also sat out. Maybe Derek Stepan can use a breather too. He’s played all 80 thus far along with J.T. Miller.

There really isn’t much to break down. Brendan Smith took a bad penalty that led directly to a Caps power play goal on a five-on-four following an abbreviated four-on-three due to Jimmy Vesey getting into it with Karl Alzner after creating one of the few scoring chances the Rangers had. At least he forced Holtby to make a save and then showed some character not putting up with Alzner’s crap.

The goal originally credited to Ovechkin was an end result of Kevin Klein screening Lundqvist. He should’ve gotten out of the way or taken Williams in front. The shot went off him after going through Klein’s legs. That was the only goal the first two periods. In what amounted to a boring tight checking blah affair, the Rangers had one more shot (18-17) after 40 minutes.

They never had a single power play. Instead, there was a lack of discipline with Chris Kreider taking a needless holding minor for not moving his feet. Plus an exasperating bench minor during a four-on-four. They somehow had seven out there including Girardi. This kind of stuff shouldn’t still be happening. But does under Vigneault just as it did under John Tortorella and Tom Renney. Why?

In the third, following a good opportunity from Miller in which his shot was blocked by a diving Brooks Orpik, he didn’t bust it back leading to Kuznetsov getting behind him and Oscar Lindberg for an insurance marker. With Girardi pinching, either Miller or Lindberg needed to cover for him. Lindberg got tangled up with Kuznetsov, who out-muscled him to get the breakaway and beat Lundqvist. Miller could’ve done a better job skating.

There wasn’t much to dislike. For the most part, the coverage between forwards and D were good. They didn’t leave too many gaps. But there was virtually no offense. Brandon Pirri did nothing in his first appearance in a year (feels like it). Pavel Buchnevich was out with Stepan and Kreider but didn’t distinguish himself. He did come back defensively. Tanner Glass was responsible in his shifts on the fourth line.

Mika Zibanejad was one of the few noticeable skaters offensively. He’s looked better. The same can’t be echoed for Kevin Hayes, who just can’t get anything going. Michael Grabner now has 1 goal in the last 20.

Adam Clendening and Steven Kampfer dressed as the third pair. They were okay. Girardi played with Smith which could be an actual pair. He just has to make sure he doesn’t leave his feet. Smith needs to stay out of the box. I can see why Red Wings fans weren’t upset about losing him. Staal paired with Klein. Both were solid at five-on-five. Staal played one of his better games.

Now, the Rangers are locked into the first wildcard with 100 points and two games left. Like the last month due to the awful divisional format, they have nothing to play for. They have been fourth in the Metro for a while with an insurmountable lead. We’ll see if they can turn it up for the 2014 rematch which Canadian media still are bitter over. See Kreider/Price. It’s pointless discussion.

So, it is the third match-up between the old Original Sixes since ’96. The Rangers have won the last two coming from 2-0 down to beat the Habs in the first round. They of course won in six games in the Eastern Conference Final three years ago. Both series went six.

For further breakdown, please refer to this column I did the other day.

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About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included two stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil games. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has scored Berkeley Carroll basketball games since 2006 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. From players, coaches to administrators, it's a first class program. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree.
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