Game 12: Awful first period haunts Rangers in ugly 5-4 loss to Canadiens

I’ve been following this team a long time. I’ve witnessed some really bad teams and piss poor efforts. Never have I seen them come out so pathetic. They were comatose at the start of last night’s ugly 5-4 loss to the equally putrid Canadiens in a game that featured a comedy of errors.

These are two bad teams. It really showed. There were as many turnovers as a bakery. The Rangers and Canadiens combined for 43 giveaways. Believe it or not, Montreal was credited with more. It was 26-17.

Poor starts have haunted the Rangers in the first dozen games. This was a new low. They weren’t ready to play. From the opening face-off, they didn’t compete. They lost every battle. They threw pucks away and gave a fragile opponent reason for hope in front of a negative home crowd that was on pins and needles throughout. This wasn’t the usual Bell Centre fans. They kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. It nearly did when Brady Skjei tied it at four in the third period.

As for the first, a few words come to mind. Pathetic. Miserable. Despicable. Mind numbing. Halloween 👻 came early. The Rangers resembled a bunch of ghosts, goblins and zombies. They were the Walking Dead.

Not one of the 18 skaters competed in a listless first that saw the Habs get the game’s first three goals and outshoot the Booshirts 22-2. That’s not a misprint. Originally, it was 19-2. They must’ve added a few. Poor Ondrej Pavelec had no help. He was under siege.

On a ugly shift, Paul Byron was left all alone in front to bury a Jonathan Drouin feed past Pavelec at 7:51. The defense was so bad that I can’t remember who was out. I know Marc Staal had his worst night so far, struggling with the Habs speed. Alain Vigneault was forced to move him down to the third pair with Nick Holden. The pairing from hell which no one wants to see. They got victimized twice. The Kevin Hayes line with Jimmy Vesey and Jesper Fast were inept. Vesey got benched only seeing five shifts the rest of the game.

Slumping Alex Galchenyuk put the Habs ahead by two with a power play goal. Brendan Gallagher set it up when he crushed Brendan Smith with a clean hit leaving Smith on the ice behind the net. Holden went the wrong way which allowed Galchenyuk an easy finish at 11:09.

Phillip Danault made it 3-0 just 2:06 later. Pavelec couldn’t control a Andrew Shaw wrist shot allowing Danault to put home the rebound. This time, it was the top pair of Ryan McDonagh and Brendan Smith along with the top line of Mika Zibanejad, J.T. Miller and Rick Nash who got victimized. Sloppy defensive play the theme with wide open Canadiens left alone to do whatever they wanted. Shaw and Gallagher caused chaos by crashing Pavelec’s net along with Max Pacioretty.

Following the worst period of the season, the Rangers awoke in the second. They rise from their coffin for second periods. Why they never are ready at the outset is inexplicable, even leaving Vigneault at a loss for words. He’s getting tired of it. His postgame interviews are becoming interesting. You can see the frustration. The thing that stands out is he noted how ‘they didn’t have one D pair that could complete a pass.’ Wow.

Montreal is a very fragile team. It doesn’t take much for them to implode. A Artturi Lehkonen interference minor led directly to Pavel Buchnevich staying hot by scoring his third goal in two games. Off a face-off win from Miller, he worked the puck to Kevin Shattenkirk at the left point. He quickly dished across for a Buchnevich one-timer that beat Carey Price through a Nash screen to cut the deficit to 3-1 at 2:21.

Suddenly more alert, the Rangers dictated play with harder skating and forechecking. They put the Habs on the defensive forcing Price to make some saves. They got 16 shots through following the first period no show. Where was this urgency before?

To his credit, Nash continues to work hard nightly. Despite entering play with only one point (goal), his hard work finally got rewarded. On a Miller breakaway in which he was denied by Price, he stuck with it getting the puck to Nash behind the net. His quick stuff in around the net beat a slow recovering Price at 12:f20 to suddenly cut it to one.

Even with momentum with a antsy Bell Centre ready to turn on their team, the Rangers managed to screw it up. On a hellacious shift in which he thought he had an icing, McDonagh lost a battle behind the net to the smaller Shaw. It resulted in sustained pressure from the Habs. As McDonagh, Brady Skjei watched along with a scrambling Hayes line, Pacioretty steered in a rebound of a Shea Weber low shot past a helpless Pavelec, who must’ve felt like Henrik Lundqvist. He made 38 saves including some key ones to give his team a chance but ultimately couldn’t bail them out. Anyone who blames the goalie is clueless.

The Rangers found themselves down 4-2 after two. They weren’t just lackadaisical. Undisciplined as well with Chris Kreider taking his usual allotment of bad penalties. He’s been so exasperating that management might have had enough. According to hockey insider Elliotte Friedman, Kreider is being shopped with Edmonton a potential partner. I don’t want any part of that if it means Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or underwhelming Ryan Strome.

Of course, the Rangers rallied to tie it in the third. Why wouldn’t they? Nash set up Mika Zibanejad for a goal with McDonagh to make it 4-3 at 2:25.

Skjei then had the good fortune of having his point shot go off the back of Tomas Plekanec past a infuriated Price to tie the score with 13:00 remaining. Shattenkirk and David Desharnais drew the assists on a nicely constructed play with Kreider distracting Plekanec in front.

With the Habs hearing boos, they responded with the next goal. Predictably, the Rangers were awful on Danault’s winner coming with 10:23 left. He was able to get to a Pavelec juicy rebound and get his second of the game and fourth point. He also assisted on two others. He was shutdown by McDonagh and Dan Girardi in the first round. Think the captain doesn’t miss Girardi?

They had some chances but couldn’t find the equalizer on Price, who did enough to earn the win. It was ugly but I’m sure a desperate Montreal didn’t mind. They improved to 3-7-1. Unless you’re a concerned Habs fan who didn’t enjoy the gong show.

How am I dealing with the Ranger ineptitude? By laughing when it gets bad. Sure. It hurts to watch. But it’s like a bad comedy. Or similar to one of my favorite movies.

It’s officially Groundhog Day and October isn’t over. The Rangers have a Halloween game against the 8-1-0 Golden Knights. Come out the same way and they’ll get blown out of the building. Will they remove their Scarecrow masks and reveal themselves? Or will Vigneault lose his job before Election Day?

Tune into the next riveting episode at the same bat time and same bat channel on Tuesday.


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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