NYR 4, CBJ 6 - Jackets Capitalize on Rangers' Sloppy Play


1/31/2017
31-18-1
CBJ 6, NYR 4
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Well rested after the All-Star break, the Rangers, who have been notoriously slow starters this year, came out with good jump and dictated play for the first 12 minutes or so against a Columbus team who has been pretty average – 5 wins, 5 losses in their last 10 – after the long win streak. But, just as was the case against Philadelphia bookending the start of the break, a lack of finish prevented the Rangers from capitalizing on early chances. A lack of discipline in their own zone sealed the Blueshirts’ fate and set an ominous tone for the playoff push.

If the game felt similar to the contest against the Flyers, it’s because the game played out almost identically, at least until the Rangers fell behind by two. But ironically, while the Rangers were great in the second period to start the season and Columbus has generally been the opposite, the wheels fell off in a period where the Rangers gave up four goals that never looked particularly difficult for Columbus.

After a number of failed opportunities to grab the lead early, including on a powerplay that generated five quality shots and a pair of chances for Zibanejad that missed the net, the Rangers lost structure in all three zones and, as we’ve seen a handful of times this year, allowed an opposing snowball the size of a soft Seth Jones wrister from the blueline to build into an avalanche.

Now, the narrative will be Hank; the narrative is always Hank, especially when he gets pulled. But while he didn’t look particularly comfortable – it’s obvious when he’s fighting the puck because his rebound control suffers – after playing well in his last three before the break, including against the Flyers, it’s hard to blame this one on the goaltender. Maybe the first goal was soft, albeit screened, and maybe the third was a bad rebound, but on all three, a lack of defensive awareness was the killer.

John Giannone pointed out that Hank and Holden were talking after the first goal. Most certainly, that was a conversation about Holden standing directly in front of his goalie puck watching.

The lackluster defensive play didn’t improve with Raanta between the pipes.

There’s lots of talk that the Rangers need a defenseman, which is warranted, but nights like this are representative of a team-wide lack of discipline. The Foligno goal, for example, was a breakdown by all five skaters on the ice. How does, let’s just say Dougie Hamilton, change that? The Rangers’ roster has too many passengers and not enough Alphas, and pulling Hank is going to scapegoat him for the woeful deficiencies up and down the ice.

I do think that an early goal – perhaps Stepan finishing on the slick move that got him behind Korpisalo – changes the entire complexion of the game. We saw in the third period what can happen when the Rangers get rolling a bit. But “what if” scenarios come with every game and they don’t absolve the Rangers’ skaters of a complete loss of focus and drive. It’s poor optics for a team whose coach just got a two-year extension and needs to build momentum before the playoffs.

Next up, the Rangers will visit the Sabres on Thursday at 7:30. It’s a good opportunity for the Rangers to find their game, but they’re 0-2 against Buffalo and have failed to meet the Sabres’ intensity in either game this year.

Notes: Jimmy Vesey’s goal was his first point in 11 games; Rangers outshot the Jackets 37-26; Marc Staal and Jesper Fast both returned to the lineup after injury; New York hadn’t surrendered a 4-on-4 goal this season until Columbus scored twice.

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