With Dan Boyle on the shelf, Alain Vigneault is in the process of figuring out who will slot in where on his defense with a hole to fill. If Saturday night served as the beginning of Kevin Klein's tryout, the results were not glowing, as Klein got beat badly twice and the Rangers dropped a Metro Division showdown against the Blue Jackets 5-2.
While New York got off to a strong start in its season opener in St. Louis, the Blue Jackets flipped the script Saturday night, eating up offensive zone time and dominating the puck from the onset, peppering Cam Talbot, who got the start in net for the Rangers.
A few minutes in, Carl Hagelin was whistled for elbowing after a collision at center ice, and while Columbus couldn't convert on the power play, the former Ranger Artem Anisimov potted one soon after, as he found a soft spot in the zone, and banged home a one-time feed from Scott Hartnell.
Columbus would double its lead late in the period as Klein made the first of his glaring mistakes. With Nick Foligno holding the puck on the wall, he managed to dart toward the middle, completely leaving Klein behind. Foligno fired an initial shot that was blocked by J.T. Miller, but managed to play the loose puck as he was falling down and chip it past Talbot to give the Jackets a 2-0 lead heading into the second.
The Rangers began the middle period with more jump, and soon were able to cut Columbus' deficit in half. Anthony Duclair drifted toward the corner to take a pass from Lee Stempniak, and then hit his line mate with a return pass in the slot. Stempniak walked in on Sergeri Bobrovsky, and beat him with a quick snap shot to make it a 2-1 game. The assist was Duclair's first career point.
Columbus pushed its lead back to two with Klein again factoring in on the play. As the Blue Jackets worked the puck around the zone, Ryan Johansen threw it toward the goal. Foligno, with Staal draped all over of him, chipped the puck across the crease, where a wide-open Cam Atkinson—who was able to shake Klein—tapped it past Talbot making it 3-1.
It looked as if the Rangers would for sure get that goal back soon after when they entered the zone on a 2-on-1 with just under four minutes to play in the second. With the puck on Rick Nash's stick, he sent a perfect cross-ice feed to Martin St. Louis, who got off a good shot, but was absolutely robbed by a sprawling Bobrovsky to preserve Columbus' two goal edge.
With the Rangers still chasing a two-goal deficit, the comeback got steeper a few minutes after that Bobrovsky save, when Chris Kreider took exception to a collision at center ice between Mats Zuccarello and Jack Skille. Kreider and Skille engaged in a brief fight, and then Kreider was given 17 penalty minutes: two for instigating, five for fighting, and a 10-minute misconduct, meaning he couldn't return until the 16 minute mark in the third period.
Through the game's final 20 minutes, much like Vigneault had to do in the opener, without the services of Kreider, Vigneault was forced to juggle his lines, splitting time between his wingers. With the Rangers trying to cut into Columbus' lead, they were able to muster some chances, but it was Columbus who struck first. With just over six minutes remaining in regulation, the Blue Jackets worked the puck out of the corner and to the point. Daltoun Prout put a shot on goal that Talbot stopped, but Marko Dano pumped home the rebound to make it 4-1.
The Rangers quickly netted a response, as Duclair forced a turnover in the offensive zone, and worked a 3-on-1 down low, looking off the defense, and sending a pass to Nash who fired it into the back of the net to make it 4-2. The goal was Nash's third in two games, and Duclair recorded his first career multi-point night with his second assist.
Atkinson would add his second on an empty-netter to cap the scoring on the game with 1:21 remaining.
The Rangers struggled at times with defensive zone spacing, and Vigneault even juggled his pairings at times. The Rangers will play their home-opener Sunday night against the Maple Leafs.