If the 5-2 loss the Rangers suffered to the Hudson rival Devils weren’t bad enough on Tuesday night, so too were the eye raising quotes that came from Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad during the Zoom Conference.
If it’s true that neither team leader has been close to their best form during the first 14 games that’s seen the Rangers go 4-7-3, both veterans shouldered responsibility for what they didn’t do right during last night’s game. Unlike a perplexed coach David Quinn, who seemed out of sorts in the postgame, both Kreider and Zibanejad didn’t mince words on what’s wrong.
“For a majority of the game they out-hit us, out-skated us, outworked us, won the majority of the battles,” Kreider told a host of reporters after the Rangers’ fourth consecutive defeat. “I mean, chances aside, we got away from the things we had been doing well.”
Kreider, who was more involved throughout due to stepping in for fallen teammate Zibanejad in an early fight with Mike McLeod, nailed it.
“They flat-out wanted it more. It’s unacceptable.”
In a game they wound up getting 39 shots on winning Devils’ goalie Mackenzie Blackwood, the Blueshirts were too inconsistent over the full 60 minutes to prevail over a team that skated without several regulars due to COVID Protocol in their first game since Jan. 31 at Buffalo. He wound up making 37 saves, but didn’t have to stand on his head. It was only in a much better second period where the Rangers dictated the pace that Blackwood did his best work by turning aside 14 of 16 shots to keep it tied headed to the deciding third period.
It was the Devils who overcame their tired legs to play a better final 20 minutes to earn the win. Even though they got goals from Yegor Sharangovich (deflection), Nick Merkley (one-timer) and Mikhail Maltsev (empty netter) to take the contest, it was their surprisingly strong first that set the tone.
A big McLeod hit on Zibanejad knocked him down in front of the bench. Only 29 seconds in, Kreider fought McLeod to go to the penalty box with each assessed five-minute fight majors. That took Kreider off the ice.
It was the Devils who had more energy in their shifts by outshooting the Rangers 16-9 in the period. Igor Shestyorkin stood up to the challenge while slow teammates allowed an opponent that had one practice to carry the play. It was mystifying.
“We were lacking a little bit of desperation to be honest with you,” Zibanejad pointedly said after again going without a goal for an 11th straight game. “The whole game, we didn’t get up to the level we needed to.
“We’ve got to find a way to get it done.”
With Zibanejad stuck on a goal (1/19 vs NJD) and two assists in 14 games, he’s far from the form that saw him register a career high 41 goals and 75 points in only 57 games last season. Whether it’s due to having the Coronavirus before the season started, or not having his timing, he hasn’t been close to the same player he was last year. It can’t continue.
Neither can the inconsistencies they have shown as a team. It’s been disjointed. They don’t look hungry enough. Even when Artemi Panarin played the first 12 games, they were under NHL .500 at 4-5-3. However, their level was much higher in the two-game series versus the Bruins. That included an overtime loss and a 1-0 shutout in which it was hard to question the effort.
Maybe the biggest indictment was that despite registering 39 shots including 16 in the second when they scored both their goals thanks to Colin Blackwell and Pavel Buchnevich, the Rangers never had one power play. How is that possible? The Devils themselves only were rewarded two on bad penalties from Kreider (delay of game) and Zibanejad (elbowing in offensive zone) with the latter leading to a Pavel Zacha power play goal.
The lack of consistency has been the issue. Perhaps the lack of bodies in front of Blackwood is a good indicator of what kind of team this is. With the exception of the Buchnevich goal which he let get through him, the Devils starting goalie was sharp. He stopped most shots that he saw.
You wonder why it was the Devils who made life more difficult on Shestyorkin. With the exception of the effective second line that featured improving forward Kaapo Kakko (5 shots), they didn’t do a good enough job making Blackwood work.
Quinn indicated that it’ll be addressed the next two days before the team plays the Flyers on Thursday. If it goes off as scheduled, there has to be more urgency. If there isn’t, something is wrong.
It’ll be interesting to see how they respond to the adversity.