1) Where to begin? Well, that’s actually pretty simple. The Rangers have a ton of holes, they have a dearth of skill and they are soft. OK, fine. But none of that matters if the guy in the net doesn’t stop the puck. They can fix some of their weaknesses — and some of that is just a matter of some critical players playing the way they’re paid to play — and they can add some offense, theoretically (though not likely), and they’ve already added muscle, though I’m not sure that Arron Asham and Dylan McIlrath are here to stay. But none of it matters of Henrik Lundqvist doesn’t play like their best player. He has to be, whether they play Torts’ wall ball or Alain Vigneault’s up-tempo, pinch-and-pray. Say whatever the hell you want. He has to stop the puck.
2) And he hasn’t been incredibly lousy. But once a game there’s one that gets by him that you and he think he should stop, and that was the first one last night. The other was an odd-man rush and I didn’t think he had a prayer, the third was a wrister that deflected off Michael Del Zotto’s backside — which is probably calloused from all his benchings. Lundqvist knows it. His confidence is shaken. He’s in a career-worst funk. I’m sure the new pressure from the contract isn’t helping. Nor is the pressure of playing behind a team that’s confused defensively and can’t buy a goal against a third-string goalie.
3) I asked this last night, and I was only being sarcastic, but what if that contract becomes an albatross before it even begins?
4) By my count, that’s seven games lost to backup goalies this season (including three games in a row), and last night’s was the first in which they scored two goals … and they scored the second against the third-stringer. Before that the Rangers had already – already, through 32 games! – been shutout three times by backups (Peter Budaj, Cory Schneider, Ben Scrivens) and lost three games in which they scored one goal each against backups (Carter Hutton, Frederik Andersen and Philipp Grubauer). In other words, five goals in seven losses to backup goalies.
5) Dylan McIlrath’s debut. Yeesh. The kid struggled, which isn’t odd, especially for a kid not known for his skating, who may or may not be ready to play at this level, and who has to go into a situation like this, where his team needs him to defend almost perfectly AND be an enforcer. I’d like to see him get more opportunity, especially against some of the more rugged teams. Again, I doubt he can skate well enough at this point, with the injuries he’s had, to be very effective. But he can’t be a lot worse than what they’ve had back there, either.
6) Dominic Moore finally scores. So if you’re scoring at home, three of the Rangers’ last four goals, covering three games (again, against backups) have come from Moore, Benoit Pouliot and Dan Girardi. In other words, Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin, Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello, Brad Richards (who has the other goal in that span), and some of the other third- and fourth-liners can feel free to jump right in one of these games. I thought Richards was, again, decent offensively in this game. He committed the turnover on the first goal, 38 seconds in, and AV pinned it right on him. Listen to the audio or video.
7) Somebody told me that Dave Maloney said something on the radio, to the effect of “Fedor Tyutin for Zherdev…you think they want that one back?” Boy, if he did indeed say that, is he right (as usual)?
8) I was wondering this a week or so ago. Since the two trades between the Rangers and Blue Jackets really haven’t helped either team get anywhere … I wonder what would have happened if Glen Sather had offered Marian Gaborik and that first-round pick for Rick Nash the summer before last. Then the Rangers could still have Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov and Nash and they’d be, IMO, a much better team than they are now. Columbus, even with Scott Howson, probably wouldn’t have done it, though.
9) At one point I started counting the Rangers in little puck battles. Not very physical stuff, just, you know, where there’s a 50/50 puck. And I started going, “lost battle, lost battle, lost battle, lost battle, lost battle.” Then you realize how bad it really is. So, even after all that soul-searching, and that closed-door meeting about being too comfortable, and about looking in the mirror and each player holding himself accountable to his teammates … um, they didn’t look like that message got through whatsoever.
10) Some stats: The Rangers are 1-15 when the opponent scores the first goal (which is why that first one, so early, was so harmful). In their four-game homestand losing streak they have allowed 16 goals and scored seven. This was from somebody in the pressroom: Since Nov. 10, the Rangers are 0-8 at the transformed MSG when John Tortorella is not on one of the benches. That’s right, they’re 1-8 in the last nine at home, beating only Vancouver. Or as Gary Bettman prefers to say, 1-7-1.
11) This game is another reason why I think the Rangers will finish in the top three in the Lesstropolitan. They were hideous in this game, and Columbus was almost as bad. The Rangers could have forced OT, they really could have. That Columbus team, like so many in the division, is terrible. And the Rangers really won’t be this bad for much longer.
12) But it was a good night for me. I got to chat with The Captain and the big man, JD. It doesn’t get much better than that.
13) Speaking of The Captain, if you haven’t caught Mark Messier’s interview on Michael Kay’s CenterStage on YES, do yourself a favor and DVR it next time it’s on. Messier opened up more way more than he normally does. He was funny, entertaining, honest. I told him I hadn’t seen him that way, and he laughed, “maybe that’s what happens when you retire.”
14) Hey, AV used a timeout in the third. That’s why you save those, apparently.
My Three Rangers Stars:
1. Dominic Moore.
2. Dan Girardi.
3. Ryan McDonagh.
Your poll vote for Three Rangers Stars:
1. Cam Talbot.
2. tie, Mats Zuccarello, Henrik Lundqvist, Dylan McIlrath.
Eddie Eddie Eddie’s Three Rangers Anti-Stars:
1. Rick Nash: Dubi mentioned several times that he wanted to do well and show the Rangers they made a mistake by trading him. Well, the Nasher had the same thoughts it seems….he too wanted to show the rangers they made a mistake by making that trade…
2. The King: Sweden has as much chance to win the Hockey gold this upcoming Olympics as Bolivia. Certainly, the last two goals weren’t entirely Hank’s fault, but letting the opposing team score inside the first minute of play, when your own team has trouble scoring inside the first 60 minutes of play, cannot be a good thing.
3. Derek Stepan: What on earth has happened to this kid? I’d trade Stepan for Gabby and no Stepan if CBJ were interested….
Photos by Getty Images.