Brassard and Zibanejad score, Rangers lose 3-1 to Ottawa


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Henrik Lundqvist saw plenty of rubber the final two periods in what was another loss in a game they rested seven players. AP Photo via Getty Images courtesy NYRangers.

There was another hockey game for the Rangers today in Ottawa. Not shockingly, they lost 3-1 to the Senators. At least Mika Zibanejad returned back to his former team and got some cheers and a goal in the final minute to prevent consecutive shutouts.

Once again, Alain Vigneault sat plenty of players including Derek Stepan and Marc Staal. Something I suggested in a recent post. The other five were Ryan McDonagh, Nick Holden, Mats Zuccarello, Rick Nash and Jesper Fast. Henrik Lundqvist made his final start of the season. He finished with 30 saves with 24 coming after the first period.

I didn’t watch the first two periods and only caught the last few minutes of the third. When it comes down to it, these games have the meaning of zilch. Vigneault has prioritized resting key cogs for the first round match-up which starts in Montreal some time next week. How healthy is McDonagh? Of course, the coach did hint that he along with the other players resting could play.  We’ll find out soon enough.

I don’t put much stock in these games. As long as they come out injury free, we’re fine. Tanner Glass threw his weight around finishing with five hits in 13:55. He also got into a fight with Ottawa defenseman Mark Borowiecki. The MSG broadcast certainly appreciates what he brings. With the Habs having a few nuisances such as Steve Ott, Andreas Martinsen along with Andrew Shaw, there’s a place in the lineup for Glass. He is a better fit on the fourth line than Pavel Buchnevich, who really hasn’t done anything lately.

Regarding the lineup, I would start with Glass on that line with Oscar Lindberg and Fast. They can be the grinding checking line which could be important against Montreal’s physicality. You know they’re gonna take runs and go after Lundqvist, who depending on who you poll, is ready or maybe isn’t. I can’t say for sure. He certainly had a heavy workload. None of the three goals he gave up were what I would classify bad. Though I’d like to see him on his feet and back in the crease for Mike Hoffman’s empty netter.

Kevin Hayes played. He didn’t do much. You worry about him because the same thing that happened last year is. Hopefully, it doesn’t carry into the first round. The Rangers need him to be a factor. As for Michael Grabner, that ship may have sailed. He can’t score. The effort is unquestioned. Keep him with Hayes and hope he gets some luck. I would pencil in Vesey on that line. That way J.T. Miller stays with Zibanejad and Nash. Obviously, don’t change the top line of Stepan, Kreider and Zuccarello.

So, what’s the plan for tomorrow’s home finale against the Penguins? A game in which the Steven McDonald winner will be revealed. I hope Miller wins. If not him, then Antti Raanta, who I think gets that last start. If he wins, he’ll get a great send off from MSG if it’s the last appearance for the popular backup who probably will be traded in June.

It was fitting that Derick Brassard scored. He was traded for Zibanejad. So, in the final meeting between the teams from different divisions, both centers notched goals. Brassard’s coming from another former Blueshirt Viktor Stalberg. The final Ottawa goal was from Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who’s always around the net. Sure enough, he tipped in a Borowiecki shot with Girardi and whoever his defensive partner was lost. Never what you want to see from Girardi, who is in a battle with Kevin Klein. He also was on for a goal against as was Brendan Smith.

No matter what way you slice it, whatever the top six is, it won’t be a team strength. At least Brady Skjei returned and played over 22 minutes. He left too much gap on Brassard’s one-timer which beat Lundqvist. Only Brassard’s 14th with the Senators. His production has suffered under more defensive oriented coach Guy Boucher. But he has bought in. Will Big Game Brass make a appearance in the playoffs? Ottawa has locked up home ice and second in their division. They just don’t know who they’re playing. Boston blew a chance to lock up third losing to the Caps, who no one wants to face.

Adam Clendening and Steven Kampfer also played. The Clendening contingent is always silent whenever he blows a coverage. He was way out on one of the Sens’ goals. Not that they would ever say anything. There’s a reason he’s not gonna play. He just isn’t an NHL regular. Case closed.

So, it’s still seven D for six spots. I don’t know what Vigneault is thinking. The automatics are McDonagh, Staal, Skjei, Holden and probably Smith. If Smith isn’t a lock, then they have no shot. He plays the hard nosed edgy game they lack. The only drawback is it can lead to undisciplined penalties. He can clear the front and pair up with almost anyone. As for Holden, yikes. I hope he isn’t with Staal. They are brutal together defensively. Holden is good offensively as his 11 goals attest. Use him that way and on the power play.

If you’re asking me, it’s either Girardi or Klein. Being that it’s AV, I have to think he’ll give Girardi the first chance. Especially with the kind of warrior like mentality he plays with. There is always risk. Neither Girardi or Klein are what they once were. But Montreal’s D isn’t lock down by any stretch.

And with that, no more recap. I am gonna go back to watching the Islanders and Devils. A game in which they honored all-time franchise scoring leader Patrik Elias. A beautiful ceremony and cool puck drop with ex-Devil Stephen Gionta out with Elias’ wife and two daughters. The Devils dominated the Islanders in the first. The Isles need to win to stay alive. Only Jaroslav Halak is keeping them in it.

Enjoy the puck tonight.

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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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