Rangers get Knighted in forgettable loss at Vegas

There wasn’t much that went right at the Fortress for the Rangers. After a good first period followed by Chris Kreider’s team-leading 21st goal to tie things up early in the second, they fell apart in a 5-1 blowout loss to the Golden Knights.

Vegas didn’t treat them too kind. Unless they try their luck at the slots, blackjack or poker with the next game versus the Ducks scheduled for Saturday uncertain, the Blueshirts will want to forget quickly about the way they played last night.

Facing a perennial Stanley Cup contender, this wasn’t even a contest. It was a bad night. The first game of a scheduled five-game road trip didn’t go exactly as coach Gerard Gallant had planned. Honored before the game by the classy pregame video tribute from the former expansion franchise he guided to a Stanley Cup appearance, Gallant was quick to point out what went wrong.

He was referring to the dismal second period. Following Kreider catching Robin Lehner napping with an unscreened wrist shot that went by his glove at 52 seconds to tie the score, they unraveled. Unable to get anything going with the forecheck, they instead turned pucks over and paid dearly due to the speed of the Golden Knights.

They countered through the neutral zone with token resistance. In fact, Alex Georgiev was under siege. Making the start for Igor Shesterkin, who’s in the protocol (out a minimum of 3 games), he certainly was sharp. In the first period, Georgiev denied consecutive shots on a rush. He wasn’t to blame for this mess.

It was the lackluster play of the team defense that came back to haunt them. After Georgiev allowed a Jonathan Marchessault power play goal with 1:25 left in the first on a Ryan Lindgren trip, he had to deal with a ton of relentless pressure from Vegas. For a while, he kept the Rangers all even after Kreider’s goal. Eventually, it became too much.

Chandler Stephenson intercepted a Libor Hajek pass in his zone and started a counterattack up ice. With the Rangers having four players back, they seemed to be in good shape. But Adam Fox dove to take himself out of the play. The end result was Evgenii Dadonov passing back across for a Mark Stone skate redirection into an open net with Georgiev pulled wide.

On the play, they reviewed to see if it was a kick after Georgiev complained. However, there was no question that Stone legally deflected it in off the heel of his inside skate. That’s not a kicking motion. Something Gallant knew, which is why he didn’t challenge.

Trailing by one, the mistakes continued. On what also was an emotional night for Ryan Reaves, the popular former Knight was given a nice video tribute and ovation from appreciate fans at T-Mobile Arena. Unfortunately, it was his fourth line that got victimized on the crucial third Vegas goal.

After failing to get the puck deep, a giveaway allowed Keegan Kolesar to get the puck over for Mattias Janmark, who was able to get a step on Hajek and fire a shot past Georgiev, who was too deep in his net. While many hung the goal solely on Hajek, who had a tough game going minus-four with rookie D partner Zac Jones on for three goals against, the Rangers’ backup could’ve been more aggressive and challenged.

Chalk it up to being overwhelmed. The shots for the second favored Vegas, 13-7. But most of their shots came off the rush. Matador D is how I’d describe the Blueshirts. A Walt Clyde Frazier Knicks term. They didn’t defend much and allowed the Knights to dictate the tempo. It was a bad recipe.

On a night where there weren’t many penalties, special teams favored Vegas. After a near miss from Jones on a great Alexis Lafreniere set up that hit the goalpost, it was the Golden Knights who capitalized at 18:35 in the first when a Nicolas Roy low shot saw them outnumber K’Andre Miller and Georgiev. Fox came out high to challenge. The Knights got three looks before Marchessault potted his 17th on a backhand in front.

The one thing the Rangers won at was hits. But it didn’t matter. If you’re the one finishing most of the checks, that’s usually not good. It means they were defending too much. They outhit the Knights 45-17.

Trailing 3-1 after two, it wasn’t over. At least technically speaking. But any comeback hopes were dashed by the superior Knights. To make matters worse, Dylan Coghlan moved the puck up for an actually healthy Nolan Patrick. He made a smart move and pass to open up the ice for Brett Howden. Like the game at MSG last month, he scored by going five-hole on Georgiev at 2:11 of the third period.

While Howden was all smiles after getting his fourth (half versus NYR because of course), it was another dismal period. Who knows why. Was it the flight? The Rangers were all but invisible. If I didn’t know any better, the guys in the white jerseys were ghosts. They may as well have been.

It went from bad to worse. On a play at the blue line, Hajek got caught to lead to a two-on-one rush for Vegas. With only Jones back, he gave Marchessault the shot. He had no trouble snapping one upstairs on Georgiev, who was a bit off his angle to make it 5-1 Vegas.

That was it. There was nothing else significant that happened. This was a bad game. They do happen sometimes. The Golden Knights are very good. Getting Stone back helped. Even minus top sniper Max Pacioretty and eventual top center Jack Eichel, who’s skating on his own, they are a handful. There’s no shame losing to them.

I wish our side had played better. But there were too many passengers. I can’t think of many Blueshirts who showed up aside from Kreider. This was one you burn.

Will they play Anaheim on Saturday? I don’t know. The NHL just rescheduled a game between the Red Wings and Ducks. Given that the Western part of the road swing is spread out, it’s possible Saturday gets moved. We’ll see.

With easy target Hajek having a night time forget along with Jones, you have to expect Gallant to make changes to the defense. At least he kept putting them out. They didn’t miss a shift. In games like last night, that’s the only way young players will learn. I would figure Nils Lundkvist gets back in and Patrik Nemeth if he’s finally ready to return.

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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