Game #24: Bad finish to good game for Rangers in 5-3 loss to better Capitals


Sometimes, you run into the wrong opponent. Saturday’s home matinee was a clear case of that with the younger Rangers giving the defending champs a good game, but like the first meeting, they lost to the better team. The Capitals defeated the Rangers 5-3 at a less than capacity MSG. James Dolan is paying for the ridiculous tier pricing that’s way too expensive for most fans, who want to go see hockey at the Garden.

As for the entertainment, it was a much better game than the crap fest we got in Philly where they were beaten to a pulp by Gritty literally speaking. To be clear, the team that took the ice 24 hours later was much better. They skated and competed hard in the second of a back-to-back against a quality foe. However, it was clearly a case of the more experienced and talented Caps doing enough to get the win.

As well as they played in taking a 1-0 lead to the locker room after one period of play on a wonderfully constructed three way play started by Kevin Hayes with Jesper Fast feeding Jimmy Vesey for a beauty, the Rangers forgot to play the second with the same passion. When coach David Quinn says afterwards, that they didn’t skate and didn’t hit in an “alarming” second period, he isn’t kidding.

Even following Brady Skjei’s first goal since an exciting home win over Colorado in overtime, the Caps began to take over. They didn’t need Evgeny Kuznetsov or T.J. Oshie. They still had better supporting pieces in Jakub Vrana and Brett Connolly, who I warned about in the game preview. Both played big roles in the Capitals coming from behind to prevail. They also had that Alexander Ovechkin guy and one of the game’s premier blueliners in John Carlson. They factored in as did Tom Wilson.

Blowing a two-goal lead happens a lot in hockey. These days, not even three or four goals are enough sometimes now that scoring is way up. The first problem was the Caps came right back following Skjei’s goal from Brendan Smith and Hayes, who had another terrific game. I wish I could say the same for Mika Zibanejad. He had plenty of company. Both Fredrik Claesson and Kevin Shattenkirk struggled mightily. Even the new third line that produced one goal had a tough day in their end, victimized on three Washington goals.

It would be easy to criticize the players for not stepping on the throat of a very capable team. But this was a rare moment where four skaters wearing Rangers colors were 20-years old or younger. Brett Howden, Lias Andersson, Filip Chytil and Tim Gettinger are the answer to a future trivia question. That doesn’t even include 22-year old rookie backup goalie Alexandar Georgiev, or 23-year old rookie defenseman Neal Pionk.

The vast majority of the team is young. Don’t forget that Pavel Buchnevich is only 23 and Skjei is 24. Even Hayes and Vesey are 25. Steven Fogarty is a 25-year old rookie getting a chance due to injuries on the fourth line. If you totaled up the amount of rookies in Saturday’s game, the Rangers had seven. That’s pretty hard to imagine. It’s never happened like this before. More and more teams are going younger to build for the future. We have to remind ourselves that it’s not about this year. But rather, what is ahead.

I can’t lie. When Carlson perfectly set up Connolly for what proved to be the game-winner with 6:24 remaining in regulation, it was frustrating. Up till that point, the Blueshirts had played a pretty good period. They showed some resolve after a dismal second that saw the Caps score three straight goals in a 9:20 span to rally from 2-0 down to a 3-2 lead. They didn’t hang their heads. Instead, a terrific shift by Vesey, Howden and Strome resulted in the former Islanders’ fifth overall pick getting his first as a Ranger to tie the game.

But a long shift for veterans Smith and Marc Staal in which they got caught out resulted in a smooth Caps transition from Vrana to Carlson across to a wide open Connolly for the dagger. It was that quick. A great skill play by Carlson, who is tremendous. He destroyed us with three primary assists and a plus-four rating. Imagine what it would be like to have a dynamic first pair defenseman with his talent. Right now, Pionk has become that guy for us with a primary assist on Strome’s wraparound goal giving him 15 points to pace all Rangers defensemen. He’s still learning on the job.

Pionk took a tough tumble in the corner on a Ovechkin hit from behind that led directly to the Great Eight tipping in a Carlson shot pass for a 3-2 Washington lead. A play that Zibanejad sleep walked on along with the other three skaters with Pionk recovering late due to the hit. The other four skaters didn’t do the job. Whether or not it was a penalty on Ovechkin doesn’t matter. That was the refs’ discretion. On a emotional day with former ref Mick McGeough passing away at age 62 due to a stroke, it wasn’t the officials who were to blame for the loss.

Sending my thoughts and prayers to his family. He sounded like a great guy. Most officials are. I know one. He’s my hero better known as my Dad. :).

The Ovechkin goal was similar to Nic Dowd’s that answered Skjei’s tally. On that one, Claesson lost Dowd in coverage for one of those uncovered freebies on a tip in from Carlson. It was like that Isles’ nightmare in Brooklyn. They left the front of the net wide open on both the Dowd and Ovechkin tallies. The tying goal from Vrana was just a world class play by an extremely skilled forward. He blew past a flat footed Howden and then went backhand top on Georgiev. A Vesey back pass started it. That can’t happen up a goal. Especially in a period you haven’t been good in.

I think the most frustrating aspect is the game was there for the taking. Once Strome tied it, anything was possible. The Caps finished with two fewer shots on goal. However, they attempted more shots. Forty-seven for the home team isn’t enough. Washington out-attempted them 54-47. They outskilled them. That’ll happen over the course of the season.

I can deal with this loss a lot better due to the response in the third. But you can’t give away periods. Something Quinn touched on in the postgame. Especially against the champs. That won’t cut it.

Hayes nearly had Chytil for the tying goal, but he missed wide. It was all set up for him. Chytil shows so much promise for a 19-year old first-year player. He’s getting more confident with the puck, trying different things. There was one instance where he had time and space, but didn’t shoot the puck. He should have. Hayes did the same thing once. But he also made a nice pass down low for a Kreider redirect try that Pheonix Copley swallowed. It was a good read, but a better save by Copley.

Wilson salted it away with a empty netter from distance. He continues to pile up points since returning earlier than expected after his 20-game suspension was reduced to 14. He served 16 games. He should’ve had to wait.

Some More Takeaways:

I disagree with Quinn continuing to use Fast with Zibanejad and Vladislav Namestnikov. It’s not that Fast doesn’t give them the yeoman effort. He sure does. That pass for Vesey’s eighth was a beauty. He finishes checks and is solid defensively. A very good penalty killer too. But for as much grit as he brings to the lineup, he can’t be in the top six. I would prefer Strome get a look. He has more skill and is solid along the boards. It probably won’t matter. They rested Mats Zuccarello due to the back-to-back with a third game over four days Monday against Ottawa. They finish November with a home-and-home series against the Senators Monday and Thursday.

I would like to see Lias Andersson get more of a look now that he’s gonna be here most of the season. He played his tenth game, meaning the first year of his entry level contract will be completed. I’m not making a big deal out of that like some hypocrites, who complain even when the organization is committed to the prospects. They don’t have to keep Andersson up for every game. If he needs to go back down, I’m good with that. They wheeled Gettinger back down following his NHL debut, which wasn’t bad for the seven minutes he played. He had five hits and nearly had his first NHL point when he took a good Andersson feed and just missed connecting down low with Skjei on the doorstep.

Skjei btw was much better throughout, playing the kind of active game he needs to to become the man. I really liked what I saw. While I didn’t get the Tony DeAngelo benching, I understood why Quinn got Smith back in. He had a decent game as did Staal, who had some good old clean physical takeouts to deny Ovechkin. He doesn’t get any credit for how honest a game he plays. Nobody gives a better defensive effort. For all the gripes about his speed due to the contract Glen Sather gave him, they quickly forget what kind of defenseman Staal was before the injuries. Remember this goal? I sure do. I was there downstairs when it happened!

Staal is still a valuable player to this group, who leads by example. He’s overcome a lot and fits Quinn’s system a lot better than the one Alain Vigneault employed. Speaking of AV, I think he could be getting a phone call pretty soon from the St. Louis Blues following the ridiculous five goal game Patrik Laine had in a Winnipeg 8-4 humiliation of the Blues. I can’t imagine Craig Berube is gonna last much longer as the interim coach.

https://media.nhl.com/games/2018020354

It wasn’t all bad yesterday. The team needs to learn from these type of games. You can learn a lot more from tough defeats than wins you squeak out.

Three Rangers Stars:

3rd 🌟 Neal Pionk assist, 6 hits including nice take out on Ovechkin, 2 blocked shots, Even Rating in 29 shifts (23:03)

2nd 🌟 Brady Skjei goal (2nd of season), 3 hits, +2 in 26 shifts (19:57)

1st 🌟 Kevin Hayes 2 assists, 6-and-5 on draws, +1 in 24 shifts (20:03)

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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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