Rangers look flat, fall to Capitals 4-2

The Blueshirts got out-shot and outplayed by the Capitals in the Verizon Center.

In the first period

Fourteen seconds into the game Jay Beagle scored a goal to put the Capitals up 1-0. Needless to say, it was far from an ideal start for Henrik Ludnqvist and the Rangers. One could even go as far as saying it was an absolutely terrible start. The good news was that Lundqvist rebounded and finished the first period with 16 saves. The bad news was that the Rangers allowed a total of 17 shots in the first, four of which came from the stick of Evgeny Kuznetsov.

The Rangers, on the other hand, put nine shots on goal against Braden Holtby and took the only minor penalty of the period. On the ensuing penalty kill Nick Holden committed a harrowing giveaway straight to the stick of Alex Ovechkin, thankfully the greatest goal scorer of the modern era was unable to capitalize on the chance. The Rangers escaped the first period down by a goal.

In the second period

One and a half minutes into the second period J.T. Miller tripped Nicklas Backstrom to put Washington’s far-too-dangerous power play back on the ice. But the Rangers quickly drew a penalty to even the odds courtesy of a Ryan McDonagh flop.

After the ice opened up with four-on-four hockey the first half of the second period belonged to the Rangers. The Blueshirts allowed just two shots in the first ten minutes while putting nine shots of their own on Holtby. Things were starting to look somewhat promising for the team wearing white.

And then the Rangers coughed up a puck in the defensive zone thanks to a bad pass by Michael Grabner that clipped off of Mats Zuccarello’s skates and found the stick of Nicklas Backstrom. The Swedish center made no mistake and buried it, unassisted, to give Washington a 2-0 lead.

Not long after that Paul Carey, the former Capital, got caught for high-sticking and put the Rangers back on the kill. The Rangers, to their credit, managed to spend the majority of their third shorthanded adventure in the neutral zone. If nothing else can be taken from this game, the Rangers penalty kill, for the most part, did well against Washington’s power play.

Shortly after that PK the Rangers enjoyed their first true power play opportunity of the game. The penalty was drawn by Brady Skjei in the defensive zone. Unfortunately for the Blueshirts they failed to register a single shot on the man advantage. Sometime after the power play expired the Rangers third line turned in an encouraging shift near the final minute of the second. That shift culminated in J.T. Miller setting up Grabner for his 14th of the season. And yes, Holtby was in his net.

The Rangers out-shot Washington 13 to 9 in the period. Grabner’s late goal provided an encouraging yet fragile flame of hope. The Capitals banished it with alacrity after the second intermission.

In the third period

Washington put a lot of pressure on in the first half of the third despite putting the Rangers back on the power play about six minutes into the period. Again, the Blueshirts power play looked utterly toothless without Mika Zibanejad.

Halfway through the third Lundqvist came up with a clutch stretch pad save on Jakub Vrana. Several moments after Hank’s highlight reel stop Jesper Fast buried an opportunity to tie the game at two. The assists on Fast’s goal belonged to Carey and Marc Staal. It was Fast’s sixth goal of the season, which is on par with the number of goals he scored in 66 games last year.

After Fast’s goal it was all Washington. Brendan Smith, who briefly left the game after being flattened against the boards by Tom Wilson, got called for hooking with around eight minutes left in regulation. The Rangers managed to kill the penalty off, but the momentum had clearly swung back in the home team’s favor.

With 3:32 left in regulation the Capitals top line tilted the ice and finally cashed in with Kevin Shattenkirk and Boo Nieves failing to tie up Wilson and Matt Niskanen in front of the net. Niskanen potted what would prove to be the deciding goal in the contest. Earlier in the shift Shattenkirk got the puck past the blue line but it was intercepted almost immediately by Wilson. It’s a play that the New York native likely wants to forget.

Just two minutes after Niskanen’s goal Wilson, who is not known as a great skater, beat Ryan McDonagh on the outside and got a lucky bounce to go through Lundqvist. It was just the most recent example of the Rangers captain looking not quite like himself this season. It was also the final nail in the coffin.

The Rangers were out-shot by Washington 40-29. They play the Devils at the Garden tomorrow at 7:00 p.m.