NEW YORK – The task for any opponent matching up against the New York Rangers remains clear and simple: score first.
Thursday night had the Columbus Blue Jackets visiting Madison Square Garden. Of the first 13 shots on goal by the Jackets, three ended up hitting the twine. And Henrik Lundqvist was the victim of all three.
And that was enough for Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault who sent rookie Cam Talbot in to relieve Lundqvist.
As stated in these pages earlier this week, the Rangers will fold like a cheap suit when scored on first or simply challenged or even threatened with a challenge. The Blue Jackets came out strong and posted a goal 38 seconds into the game when Matt Calvert scored.
“It was a great pass (from Anisimov). After that I kind of had a half-breakaway there,” Calvert said. “I saw [Lundqvist] cheating a little bit to the blocker side and I just put it [by the] trapper.”
Artem Anisimov made 2-0 on a slapshot in his return to the Garden with Columbus.
“I was very excited about this game. I had so much emotion,” Anisimov said. “I just wanted to go on the ice and play the game and have fun. We won, so it’s good.”
David Savard’s unassisted goal at 11:10 was the one that got Lundqvist the hook. It was his first of the season.
“The biggest thing for me now is believing what I do and staying confident. Confidence is such an important thing in this game and right now it’s not very high,” Lundqvist said. “Me not coming up with saves early is hurting me and the team. You just have to work through it. But it’s definitely a test for your confidence.”
Dominic Moore got his first of the season for New York at 14:08 of the first off an assist from Brad Richards. For Richards it was his 25th point of the season, tops on the otherwise anaemic roster of Rangers.
“Obviously tonight, down by three, it’s a big challenge. I thought the guys for the most part tried to battle back,” Vigneault said. “We gave ourselves a chance. We made it a one-goal lead. Unfortunately, when you’re behind, sometimes you take some risks. That’s what happened on their fourth goal.”
Through two periods the Rangers were 0-for-3 on the power play and with each man advantage they seemed to perform more poorly.
It seems that this roster is searching not for an identity but the rock bottom they have yet to hit. At times they appear to have to hit bottom and then have broken out the picks and shovels to mine for the next level.
Starting Columbus goalie Curtis McElhinney did not return to the game after the first intermission. Reports suggested a lower body injury. He was replaced by Mike McKenna who did nothing more than stop all 11 shots from the Rangers in the middle frame.
Trailing 3-1 heading into the third a more invested roster of skaters might have considered a big push in the period to gain some traction. The Rangers managed 7 shots on a goal manned by a third-string netminder.
Talbot yielded a late tally to Ryan Johansen with less than two minutes to play in the game. The goal was soft and one that Talbot should have stopped but that was not the reason New York lost. He stopped 13 of the 14 shots he faced.
McKenna stopped 17 of 18 in relief. Dan Girardi got his second of the year in the third.
To give some idea of how badly the Rangers played in this game, the Blue Jackets took all three stars-of-the-game honors including Calvert, Johansen and Anisimov.
Is this the loss for which there will be repercussions in the roster? Probably not. After all, who can be moved? No other team in the NHL would want to take on any of the bloated contracts. And those who are movable are not likely to attract any interest or quality in return.
The Rangers have had a full squad on the ice for a total of three games this season. Certainly injuries are one reason for the poor play but they cannot and should not be used as excuses for this on-ice display. Thursday night those in attendance actually did see the heart and soul of the Rangers, unfortunately they now play for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Rangers’ fans should want this roster shaken up and rattled. It can and will get worse as more talented teams come into the Garden to take on this roster. They are now 0-3-1 on their nine-game homestand.
The picks and shovels are out to mine for new depths of futility.
“There were lots of subplots in this. Our room was particularly quiet before,” Richards said. “They tend to be quiet and focused before the game. But our room was especially quiet tonight.”