Much has been made of what has contributed to the Rangers recent failures. From a lack of grit, to a lack of effort, and poor goaltending, there's been plenty amiss as the Rangers have struggled of late. Thursday night against Columbus, it was a little of everything, as the Rangers were not able to climb out of an early three goal hole and dropped their fourth game on their current homestand by a score of 4-2.
The Blue Jackets didn't take long to quiet the home crowd, as Matt Calvert danced around Anton Stralman and fired a shot under the crossbar glove-side to give the visitors a 1-0 lead only 38 ticks in.
The Rangers didn't show much punch in the form of a response, until Dylan McIlrath, playing in his first NHL game, stepped up to make a big hit in the neutral zone. The play, which drew a delayed penalty call, also put the Rangers in an odd-man situation in their own zone, and former Rangers sharp-shooter Artem Anisimov stashed home the puck from a tough angle to push Columbus' lead to two.
The Blue Jackets would claim their largest lead of the night midway through the first when a David Savard point shot deflected of Michael Del Zotto in front, and made it a 3-0 game, and also had Alain Vigneault calling on Cam Talbot. The first goal he allowed is one Henrik Lundqvist will say he wants back, but the other two were not really the goalie's fault. Either way, Vigneault needed to do something to shift the momentum.
Dominic Moore broke the shutout for the Rangers just under three minutes later, as he found a rebound atop the crease and sent the puck home on the backhand just as a power play expired. The guys on the Fox Sports Ohio broadcast mentioned this, but it's great for Moore to get his first goal of the season after everything he's been through, and how long he was away from hockey.
The second period began with a bit of a surprise, as Mike McKenna skated out in between the pipes for Columbus. Curtis McElhinney, who manned the crease in the first period, exited the game with a lower body injury. And the Rangers had plenty of chances to test the cold backup, but squandered two power play opportunities on Brandon Dubinsky minors and entered the third period still down two goals.
Things got interesting in the final frame, as the Rangers managed to get the game to within a goal. After making a defensive play in their own zone, the Rangers broke up ice, Mats Zuccarello hit a trailing Dan Girardi with a perfect pass on the tape, and the defenseman roofed a wrist shot to make it a 3-2 game. Vigneault always talks about the role he wants defenseman to play up ice, and the lane jump and recognition by Girardi on that play was textbook, leading to his second goal of the season.
Still, with nearly half the period remaining, and needing one goal to tie, the Rangers could only muster three shots on frame after that Girardi tally, and couldn't pull any closer. With the deficit still at one, Ryan Johansen broke up ice with under two minutes to go, and on a partial breakaway, squeaked a shot through the equipment of Cam Talbot in what was certainly the softest goal of the night.
The Rangers, who have struggled to score in this losing stretch, showed a lot of what's inhibited them this season. Of the 34 shots on goal they recorded, nine were off the stick of Brad Richards, most of which from bad angles. Vigneault tried to juggle lines in the third period, but no combination really managed to create quality scoring chances.
There's still five games left on this nine-game homestand, but with some of those games including the likes of Pittsburgh, the Islanders, Toronto, and Minnesota, there's some tough sledding ahead.
I think this tweet from colleague Adam Gretz pretty much sums up where the Rangers are at right now.
Goalies NYR have faced last 3 games: Philipp Grubauer, Carter Huttun, Curtis McElhinney/Mike McKenna. Goals the NYR have scored: 4— Adam Gretz (@AGretz) December 13, 2013
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