Game #20: Senators give younger Blueshirts a dose of reality in brutal loss

Twenty games have now been played. By tomorrow night, the Rangers will have arrived at the quarter mark of the season. One thing they’re learning is it’s not easy to win games in this league. That’s basically a takeaway from a very disappointed coach David Quinn following a brutal 4-1 loss to the Senators in Ottawa.

As good as Wednesday’s home win over the Capitals was was as bad as this defeat was against the harder working Senators. Like Henrik Lundqvist said in a very candid postgame interview at his locker:

“They [Senators] win because they work hard. They earn their wins.”

Until they can sustain a level of consistency, the up and down nature of the Rangers will continue. For all I know, they could shock everyone by going into the House Of Horrors and upset Montreal tomorrow night. I don’t know what to expect. One thing is certain. Lundqvist will get the game off after going three in a row. It’ll be up to Alexandar Georgiev to handle the overachieving Canadiens in a crazy environment.

Sometimes, we get ahead of ourselves by thinking this team has finally figured it out. They haven’t yet. And that’s perfectly okay. Sure. Piss poor efforts like the one the Blueshirts gave tonight are unacceptable. However, there are going to be continued growing pains for this group. It’s this team that’s the youngest in the NHL. That part is sometimes forgotten.

Take my debate with a frustrated fan from Finland. He wants to blame assistant coach Lindy Ruff for what we saw. I know it’s a popular theory being spread like gospel from other spaces. But you could have Larry Robinson teaching these guys defense and there would still be struggles. Something no Ruff cynic wants to admit. If they want to get rid of him, fine. By all means do it. I don’t see it solving the problematic defensive issues they have. They’re mostly young and there are going to be mistakes.

What frustrates me is the continued underperformance of veteran defenseman Brady Skjei. He is making over $5 million which GM Jeff Gorton gave him as an investment. There’s been no improvement. In fact, he’s continued to regress. It’s looking more and more like Alain Vigneault was right about him. Remember all the expert NYR bloggers who had hissy fits over Skjei not playing in the top four the last time this team made the playoffs? They are wrong. Shocking I know. AV knew. He correctly protected Skjei from tougher match-ups. Now, we’re seeing why.

No one player has been more disappointing than the former 2012 first round pick this team selected at number 28. Here are four defensemen who have fared better in the same NHL Draft. Shayne Gostisbehere. Colton Parayko. Esa Lindell. Jaccob Slavin. Even Adam Pelech has progressed for the surprising Islanders.

Something has to give with Skjei. He can’t continue to be this inconsistent. He’s supposed to be a top four defenseman they can count on. Right now, it’s not even close. This is not a first or second year player. It’s a player in his fifth season who’s being compensated well. It’s looking like a colossal mistake by Gorton. One of the few he’s made.

When Quinn goes out of his way to critique veterans over the young players for why this team isn’t winning consistently, he’s correct. Skjei isn’t alone. Chris Kreider has five goals and 11 points in the first 20 games. That’s a huge disappointment for a veteran player in a contract year. I watch his postgame interviews and they’re usually dead on. However, he needs to apply it to himself. He’s not getting it done. Mika Zibanejad has missed 11 games and has the same production. That’s inexcusable.

On a night where Ottawa blanketed Artemiy Panarin to end his career best 12-game point streak, nobody stepped up. Ryan Strome had one of his worst games. He was too passive and partially responsible for an Ottawa power play goal that saw Skjei get outmuscled by Jean-Gabriel Pageau along the wall. It was an embarrassing sequence.

Just as bad and sad was watching Tyler Ennis go around Skjei to score a goal on Lundqvist that was a back breaker. Skjei didn’t put a body on Ennis. Even Joe Micheletti criticized the lack of physicality. You gotta check the attacking player. It’s Tyler Ennis. Not a prime Jaromir Jagr. This was appalling.

There also was the trademark goal in the first minute from Lundqvist. He got beat clean by Ottawa defenseman Thomas Chabot. The puck came to him and he didn’t miss by going high glove on Lundqvist. It didn’t help that Libor Hajek was caught in no man’s land. He helped Chabot score by accidentally getting into his own goalie’s view. It was not a good night for Hajek or even Adam Fox, who is normally so unflappable. That’s gonna happen. Ryan Lindgren took the penalty that led directly to Connor Brown’s first NHL goal. Of course he did. A Rangers tradition since the Dark Ages.

Ottawa was so dominant in the first period that they completely outclassed a listless Blueshirts, who looked like they didn’t get off the flight or had one too many at the hotel on Thursday. They forgot to set the alarm clocks. It turned into a shooting gallery around Lundqvist’s net. The Senators registered 19 shots in the period. They scored two. It could’ve been more.

The Rangers caught a break when off a face-off, Jacob Trouba had a wide shot go off Anders Nilsson’s stick and in for his second goal. It was a nice break that made it 2-1. Rookie Tim Gettinger picked up his first NHL career point with a secondary assist. Congrats to him on it. He also was parked in front on the goal. It was Greg McKegg who won the draw. Gettinger got it over to Lindgren, who found Trouba for the lucky offering. He’ll take it. It’s been a tough go for him since a hot start.

They almost tied it. But almost doesn’t count. Penalty trouble really cost them in the second period. A bench minor on a penalty kill handed Ottawa a five-on-three. I laughed. How could you not? How can they be so sloppy? They’re already a man short. You cannot screw up a line change down a man. That’s on Quinn and his staff. Of course, after Lundqvist made some acrobatic stops, they finally set up Anthony Duclair for a rocket top shelf. Wow. His 10th had some high heat on it. I didn’t know he could bring it like that. The Duke no longer looks like a bust. He also added a helper and even killed penalties.

Prior to the Rangers self destructing, they’d already given up the Ottawa third goal 71 seconds in to Ennis. The Skjei debacle that disgusted me. It got even more disgusting when Brendan Lemieux drew a double minor for hi-sticking on Christian Jaros. Rather than realize what the Sens penalty kill was doing by overplaying Panarin, they kept passing the puck around like a hand grenade. Another Ranger tradition MSG is familiar with. They passed up some good shots including Strome. It was mystifying.

Somehow, they managed only two total shots on a four-minute power play. It was ridiculous. The lack of urgency cost them any chance at a comeback. Eventually, their own ineptitude allowed Duclair to show that he’s finally found a home with his fifth NHL team. Good for him. Bad for the Rangers, who lost the season series 2-1 to a harder working team.

That’s who the Senators are. They now are up to 11 wins and only three points out of a playoff spot. It’s a credit to how hard they play for rookie NHL coach DJ Smith. They earned it.

As for the Rangers, it’s back to the drawing board. We’ll see if they learned anything from this tomorrow at Montreal. A place that’s been unkind to them for seemingly ever. The exception being the last two playoff meetings including the memorable Conference Final win in 2014. That feels like a lifetime ago.

Just a suggestion for the coach, who had Lindgren paired up with Tony DeAngelo by night’s end. Really want to send a message? Bench Skjei and have the suddenly ineffective Brendan Smith shift back to his natural position on D. Recall Vinni Lettieri and let Lias Andersson continue to work on his game.

I doubt they’ll do it. Especially on a weekend for Hartford. It’s just a thought. I’m getting tired of watching Skjei struggle. It’s very disappointing.

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 Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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