Tkachuk scores late and gets overtime winner to hand the Rangers another bad home loss, Senators earn split, Kravtsov nets goal in defeat, the disappointment of Kakko and Lafreniere


How many bad losses can a team have on home ice? Counting blown leads to the Red Wings, Islanders and Oilers, this makes four. Simply put, the Rangers don’t know how to win at MSG. They blew another lead in a bad 3-2 overtime loss to the lowly Senators.

Despite not playing well, they were in position to win thanks to Mika Zibanejad finding a loose puck that went off Artem Zub to take a one-goal lead with 13:57 left in the third period. But in a sloppy game where they turned over pucks and kept giving the Senators opportunities, they finally got burned in the final minute.

Behind the net in the corner, Jacob Trouba tried to clear the puck up the middle. The high risk play was intercepted by Ottawa defenseman Thomas Chabot. He knocked it down at the blue line and in one motion fired a long shot that captain Brady Tkachuk deflected past a helpless Igor Shesterkin to tie the score with less than 49 seconds remaining.

It was the latest costly mistake from Trouba, who can’t seem to find his way this season. The new Rangers captain gets credit for continuing to grind his way through whatever is ailing him. However, he’s repeatedly committed turnovers and blown assignments that have led to goals against like the big one Tkachuk scored on Friday night.

Making matters worse, the Rangers twice blew great chances to still earn the second point during three-on-three in extras. First, Trouba made a perfect outlet to lead Zibanejad on a breakaway. However, Cam Talbot took away the winner by making a glove save on Zibanejad’s wrist shot. He read it well.

Following that scoring chance, Adam Fox was in good position to be the hero. Instead, his shot or pass was taken away by a diving Chabot. He then found Tkachuk to send him in one on one with Shesterkin. With Artemi Panarin trying to back check, the much bigger Tkachuk warded him off and then made a big boy move, going forehand, backhand deke to beat Shesterkin five-hole for the OT winner at 4:42.

It put an end to another frustrating game at home. The Rangers are now 4-5-4 at MSG. Essentially, they’ve got four wins against nine losses at The Garden. That is an indictment of the current team. They continue to lose with regularity in their own building. Home ice disadvantage. Devils fans would agree after buying up all the available tickets on Monday and then failing to sellout for Nashville on Thursday in Newark.

It is embarassing how inconsistent this team is. I don’t often listen to Gerard Gallant. But I caught his somber postgame courtesy of ESPN Radio while out for a ride. He was as upset as he’s been all season. Referring to his team as only playing good for 15 minutes out of a 65-minute game, he called the effort far from good enough.

He also called out the power play. Even though they only went 0 for 2, he said there were poor entries and they were sloppy. This was in direct reference to the top unit that hasn’t been pulling its weight. It was actually the little used second unit that got a couple of shots on the second attempt. It isn’t good enough. Maybe Gallant should consider adjusting the two units.

In what amounted to his return to net after a tirade in which he blamed himself for all four goals the Devils scored on him in a discouraging 5-3 loss on Monday, Igor Shesterkin was back after Jaroslav Halak made 34 saves to win his first game at Ottawa (Kanata). He was much better finishing with 34 saves to take a hard luck defeat.

It wasn’t about the goaltending. Following a good enough start in which they tried to build off the road win over the same opponent, the Rangers were able to grab the lead thanks to Vitaly Kravtsov. He returned on Wednesday night and impressed Gallant enough in 10:30 of ice time to move him up on the second line with Filip Chytil and Artemi Panarin.

That new line was easily the most effective one during the game. Following a Fox pass up for Panarin, he moved the puck to Kravtsov in the left slot. One on one, his first shot accidentally caught Travis Hamonic up high sending him down in pain. Then, Kravtsov retrieved the puck and beat Talbot from an angle by going far side off the goalpost for his first of the season at 10:31. It was the third goal of his career.

Afterwards, the Senators began to pick it up. Talbot made stops on Fox and Jimmy Vesey, who always gives an honest effort. He just shouldn’t be on the first line. That’s more an indictment on Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere. Both played with Vincent Trocheck on the third line. Neither distinguished themselves.

Kravtsov opened more eyes in one game than either former high draft pick has all season. That’s because unlike the overhyped ‘can’t miss prospects,’ the former 2018 ninth overall pick can actually skate and puts himself in good position in the offensive zone. That’s why I didn’t want the organization to throw him away. He still must prove a lot more. He took a bad penalty that they killed off. It’s a learning process.

Sometimes, MSG Network puts out postgame interviews on the Rangers YouTube channel. The one they made available of Kravtsov was severely lacking. It was 65 seconds. He didn’t seem to care about the goal. Instead, he wasn’t pleased with the game. It’s about winning. They didn’t.

If there was something that was noticeable the final seven minutes of the first, it was the Sens willingness to get shots through and drive the net. They made life difficult on Shesterkin, who was much sharper. He also had some help.

After Libor Hajek (in for Zac Jones) broke up a two-on-one, he saved a goal. Tkachuk had a shot trickle through Shesterkin dangerously close to going in. However, a hustling Hajek was able to get his stick on the puck and tuck it back under him to get a whistle. Goodrow also dove on the play and tried to get there.

On an effective shift while they were featuring him as the Ranger of the game, Trocheck made a strong move around the Ottawa net. However his wrap-around was denied by an alert Talbot. The former Ranger had 25 saves on 27 shots to ultimately get the win.

With Ottawa continuing to improve as the period wore on, it was the ever dangerous Tim Stutzle who got a quality chance thanks to a great move. After going around K’Andre Miller, he then got off a leaping wrist shot from the high slot that Shesterkin padded it away. A prime example of the elite skill he has. Hard to believe scouts had him rated behind Lafreniere. Stutzle is a more explosive skater. He’s also German. Not Canadian.

By the time the first concluded, shots were even at nine apiece. The Senators played better than at any point the other night. The Rangers turned over pucks and were making life harder on Shesterkin.

At the start of the second, the Senators got off quickly with three shots in the first 62 seconds including a Shane Pinto try that Shesterkin got over to deny. Pinto has a top heavy shot. He has nine goals. A second round pick on 2019, the right shooting center looks like a good goal scorer. Isn’t that what Kakko was supposed to be at number two?

The new checking line again was effective. Sammy Blais drew a cross-checking minor on Zub to put the Rangers on the power play less than four minutes in. I might get on his case a lot, but Blais has looked better recently. He almost scored in this game. The goalpost denied him.

In particular, the top unit was abominable. They couldn’t get anything going on the five-on-four. Instead, it was controlled by the Sens, who even got two shorthanded chances that Shesterkin handled. He also almost gave away a puck, but at the last second recovered. He’s very aggressive at stick handling. But lately, it’s been more iffy.

Back to full strength, it was advantage Ottawa. Alex DeBrincat was denied by Shesterkin, who really did his best work under siege. For a majority of the period, the more aggressive Sens swarmed his net. He made saves on Stutzle and Tkachuk to keep the Rangers ahead by one.

Following a close call on one end in which a Fox turnover allowed the Senators to counterattack, Claude Giroux thought he’d tied it by putting in a rebound of a Tkachuk shot with 8:58 left. However, a successful coach’s challenge by Gallant for offside showed that Tkachuk was just ahead of the play to reverse the goal call.

However, a Trouba minor for tripping Drake Batherson put Ottawa on the power play. After a stoppage, the Sens banged away with Stutzle finally able to stuff a backhand in past Shesterkin to tie the score with 7:44 to go. Tkachuk and DeBrincat picked up the assists.

On a rare five-on-five shift with Trocheck where he was visible, there was an Alexis Lafreniere sighting. He got two shots on net that Talbot stopped. There isn’t much else to say. At least he had three shots on goal including one good chance in the third. Aside from his penalty killing, Kakko did nothing. He really looks like a bust. I think he can be a checking forward. But that’s not what was predicted.

With the shots 11-5 in favor of the Sens, Trouba decided to challenge Tkachuk following a draw. This heavyweight clash was very entertaining. They exchanged blows and it definitely woke up a dead crowd. The same one that was asleep while Devils fans took over the building. Dolan’s creation.

The Rangers began to show some signs of life after that fight. On another effective shift for the trio of Panarin, Chytil and Kravtsov, they were able to get some sustained pressure that nearly resulted in the go-ahead goal. On a smart diagonal pass from Panarin up to Schneider, he made a good centering feed for a wide open Chytil in front. All he had to do was tip it home. But he missed it. It was there.

After Austin Watson finished a check on Trocheck, Barclay Goodrow engaged him. Taking up for Trocheck, the smaller Goodrow did well against the bigger Watson, who’s a tough customer. Each received five-minute majors for fighting. When he discussed this portion of the game, Gallant indicated that they shouldn’t need two fights to get motivated. He’s right.

It was on a shift with Trocheck anchoring the checking unit that Blais made a nice move around and fired a shot that beat Talbot. But it rang off the goalpost and stayed out. That’s his luck. No goals in 36 games and counting. At least his confidence is coming back.

Even though Ottawa didn’t get any shots following the fights, Lindgren had a late one from distance that Talbot handled. The second finally ended. The Senators led in shots 20-15 and had the better of the play except on the scoreboard thanks to Shesterkin.

In the third period, Trocheck got open. But as has been the case for him in Year One, he hit another post. Joe Micheletti noted that that’s nine goalposts. Who’s keeping track? Not him or Kenny Albert, who filled in for a sick Sam Rosen. I hope he feels better. He really sounded under water in Ottawa. Poor guy is such a gamer. He should also get Saturday off. But Albert travels for NFL games. Get Rosen some help.

On what else but a good forecheck by a pinching Fox, he drew two for slashing from Stutzle. This time, they got chances. But Trocheck and Chris Kreider missed with the latter a great opportunity on a weird play. By the time Panarin fired the rebound, Talbot was set and made the easy stop for a whistle.

Remarkably, the second unit came out and actually had more shots on net. Talbot stopped a Trouba long blast and then shut the door on tries from Lafreniere and Chytil. Lafreniere tried to go five-hole from the circle. But Talbot was squared up. I really think he should be on the right side. Kakko isn’t a shooting threat. I haven’t figured out why Blais is on that unit.

A little bit later, an active shift from Vesey down low led to a goal. On the forecheck, Schneider sent a wrist shot that banked off Zub in front. Kreider then had a rebound go to Zibanejad, who was able to squeak it through Talbot for his team-leading 12th at 6:03. A gritty goal for a skilled player. They’ve been getting more of those recently.

With over 10 and a half minutes left, Kravtsov just missed on a backhand. The replay seemed to indicate it might’ve gone off Talbot. They don’t always get everything right. I couldn’t tell. Following that close call, he went for a stick lift and caught Pinto with a high stick. That put Ottawa on the power play.

On the penalty kill, Shesterkin made two saves. His best came when he slid over to deny a Pinto one-timer. It was a good set up. But he was much more locked in than this past Monday. Perhaps the extra day off did him some good. They’re gonna need him.

Shortly following the successful penalty kill, Tyler Motte thought he had one. On the play directly in front, he shot a puck into the right outstretched pad of Shesterkin, who had it underneath on the goal line with 7:18 remaining.

Immediately, the refs decided to go to video review to determine if it was a goal. Shesterkin’s momentum pulled him back into the net. At no point did the replays show the puck anywhere other than underneath him. It was the right call.

Undeterred, the Sens continued to come. On a strong offensive shift, Pinto had Batherson wide open in the slot. But Shesterkin calmly made a glove save to shrug it off. Then, the more familiar, “Ig-or, Ig-or!”, chants followed. If only it had the same enthusiasm as the mock chants.

After another good shift where you noticed him on the forecheck, I tweeted this. Dan Rosen also had something positive to say.

At least Kravtsov can skate and shows instincts. He did play professionally. He will need to get stronger. He almost got caught on a dump in during an early line change. We’ll see what happens. They need all the help they can get. Especially with Kakko and Lafreniere in a malaise.

As Shesterkin kept making key stops, it looked like the Rangers would actually protect a one-goal lead and earn a win in regulation. Not so fast.

Instead, with Ottawa pressing late in the final minute during a six-on-five, Trouba thought he had a chance to clear the zone. But his pass up the middle was intercepted by a quick thinking Thomas Chabot. He then fired a shot that Tkachuk tipped in to again spoil the fun.

It was typical. What else can be said. This team doesn’t know how to close games out on home ice. They’ve also lost to San Jose. Another forgettable cruel ending in OT.

The three-on-three was entertaining. The Rangers had their chances. But when Zibanejad was thwarted by Talbot and Panarin was turned away, it was just a matter of time.

I didn’t understand Gallant using Kakko over Kravtsov. He didn’t have a good offensive game. No shots on net. Reward your best players. Stick him out there. See what he can do.

After Fox came close, Chabot sent a hanging Tkachuk down for the winner. A power forward move by a player who isn’t a colossal disappointment. Instead, he’s a captain at 23 who scored two goals (including numbers 100 and 101) and an assist with a fight for a Gordie Howe hat trick. He leads his team in scoring with 28 points and dominates games.

Will Lafreniere ever reach that level? He’s on a checking line and still struggling to distinguish himself. The game-breaking speed isn’t there. He puts himself in position and gets dirty. But there just isn’t that extra gear. Kakko I’ve given up on. He lacks the instincts you expect in a scorer.

I wish I had more positive things to say. If they don’t get two points against the woefully bad Blackhawks tonight, that’s pathetic. It has to be a win. It’s a 7:30 start.

THREE STARS OF GAME

3rd 🌟 Vitaly Kravtsov, Rangers goal (1st of season), 3 attempts, 2 PIM, +1 in 15 shifts (12:22)

2nd 🌟 🤩 Igor Shesterkin, Rangers 34 saves on 37 shots incl. 13/14 in 3rd

1st 🌟 🤩 ⭐️ Brady Tkachuk, Senators 2 goals (10, 11) including OT winner plus 🍎, fight, 8 SOG, +1 in 19:10

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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