The New York Rangers made the wrong kind of statement to the Eastern Conference, validating their defensive lapses are still an issue that plagues them.
By Patrick Comia
If ever the New York Rangers needed to make a winning statement to the Eastern Conference of their hockey status, today was the day.
Reaching the halfway point in their season, the Blueshirts welcomed the Metropolitan Division leading Washington Capitals in to Madison Square Garden.
Through the first 40 minutes, the Rangers looked to be in control of their game, causing the Capitals to play on their heels, something that opponents have been having a hard time doing.
The first goal summarized how the Rangers have been performing recently. Bad decision-making, leads to bad turnover, leads to bad goal given up. Two of the Rangers top defenseman, Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi, were guilty of aiding their opponent in the goal with defensive gaffes.
For McDonagh, it had to be one of his worst games as a Ranger. Too many instances was he seen turning the puck over that lead to a Capitals scoring opportunity.
But it wasn’t just on the defensive side, his offensive touch escaped him this game. A glorious opportunity was missed by the Rangers captain, after a Rick Nash caused a turnover which lead to a two-on-one. A cross-ice pass was not taken advantage of by McDonagh, who reflected the one-timer wide of Braden Holtby.
It’s just how the season has been so far for the Rangers. Looks that would have been scores last year are not being converted and becoming missed opportunities.
However, the Capitals defense, with Holtby as a huge factor, stifled the Blueshirts making life difficult to get any sort of scoring opportunity. They seem to have taken a page from the Rangers playbook in the past and posted 18 blocked shots, to lead both teams in that category.
To top it off, Holtby was proving why he why he was selected to the All-Star. He stopped all 18 shots faced through the first two periods and looked to have placed a spell on the Rangers this afternoon.
However, as the third period rolled around, that spell was broken.
Three goals by New York gave the team and its fans a much needed boost. Goals by Oscar Lindberg, Kevin Hayes, and Viktor Stalberg seem to tilt the ice in the Rangers favor. All they needed to do was keep the puck out of their own end, and play smart.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned.
With a ill-advised icing by Nash in the last minute of the period, the face off would be in the Rangers defensive zone. This also prevented the team from making a line change.
As luck would have it, the Capitals would take advantage of the error. Again, taking a page out of the Rangers playbook of the past, another Capitals All-Star selection Nicklas Backstrom scored in front of Henrik Lundqvist with 5.7 seconds left in regulation.
The sad part, he was even’t touched. Not even contested.
Backstrom could have read Moby Dick to Henrik Lundqvist. That’s how much time he had in front to score any rebounds. It’s another example of the same defensive holes the Rangers have been guilty of in their first 41 games this season.
If accountability is the name of the game, McDonagh has to be named. He is the captain of the team, the voice of the Blueshirts. his afternoon, he looked very ordinary and uncaptain-like.
And that’s a troubling issue, if it persists.
Just as the scoring began with the Great Eight, it would end with the Great Eight.
After a unbelievable combined effort from Capitals defenseman Nate Schmidt and Holtby to keep a guaranteed overtime winner from becoming reality for Derek Stepan, Ovechkin got on his motor and took matters into his own hands.
The result, another vintage goal-scoring moment that Rangers fans will have to endure from Ovi:
It was his 499th of his career and the overtime winner.
It was a game the Rangers seemed to be theirs for the taking. 5.7, 8, 14, 19. Those numbers did in the Bluehirts today.
The next time these two teams meet will be next week at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. Will the Rangers have their own numbers to counter?