After the USA women’s ice hockey team’s ‘Redemption On Ice’ a night ago, the Rangers were looking to follow it up with a miracle of their own, but unlike Jocelyne Lamoureux, they were unsuccessful. Tonight the Blueshirts traveled to the Bell Centre, where the Montreal Canadiens handed them their 5th straight loss, and their 12th in their last 15 games. Calling Alain Vigneault’s team undermanned in this game, may even be an understatement, but it’s not as if the Rangers were matched up against a quality opponent either. With tonight’s victory, Montreal snapped their 7 game losing streak, and they managed to do so without their star-players, in Carey Price and Shea Weber. For the Rangers, Marc Staal was reinserted into the lineup after his 9 game absence due to a concussion; however in order to prepare for the impending trade deadline, Henrik Lundqvist was given a much needed night off resulting in the NHL debut of Alexandar Georgiev, and both Rick Nash and Michael Grabner were scratched out of precaution. With deals having been in the works for both of the Rangers’ top goal scorers, Jeff Gorton was not interested in taking any risks. At the conclusion of tonight’s contest, Michael Grabner was dealt to the New Jersey Devils for a 2018 second-round draft pick, and a young defenseman named Yegor Rykov, who is currently playing in the KHL.
Rykov is a very good defenseman who can compliment a kid like Skjei or Shattenkirk. Russian/KHL situation likely reason for getting passed over in 2015 and going late in 2016. Excellent first pass, keeps a tight gap and locks down the low slot. Very smart and NHL ready.
— Steve Kournianos (@TheDraftAnalyst) February 23, 2018
This game began with a very sloppy and lackadaisical first period from the Rangers. Power-plays swayed the momentum back and forth, but Montreal dominated for the greater portion of the frame. The Blueshirts’ rookie-infused and shorthanded lineup played like one. They succeeded in not surrendering a goal within the first 120 seconds of the contest, but the Boys in Blue were unable to keep the score knotted for much longer. 6:59 after puck-drop, Thomas Plekanec found the back of the net, as he easily redirected a perfect Paul Byron setup into the gaping Rangers’ net. Alexander Georgiev had no chance on this one, with the man at fault being newcomer Rob O’Gara. The Rangers’ newest addition was acquired as part of the exchange that sent Nick Holden to Boston, marking the beginning of the RangersTown fire-sale. O’Gara allowed Plekanec to gain prime position in front of the net, and he was unable to make up for his flawed-positioning, as his stick was nowhere to be found. The newbie showed the Blueshirt Faithful why he’s appeared in only 11 NHL games, after being drafted way back in 2011. Nick Holden may be gone, but the Rangers defensive hiccups didn’t depart alongside him.
The action would pick up in the second period, but it wasn’t in the Rangers favor. Georgiev was peppered with 19 shots, and the bulk of the action occurred right in front of the young net-minder, as the Blueshirts failed to generate pressure on Antti Niemi. Just under four minutes into the second frame the Habs would strike again. An offensive zone turnover by the Rangers led to a 3-on-2 counterattack, where then Jeff Petry would convert, tapping a beautiful cross-ice pass from Charles Hudon, past Georgiev, to extend Montreal’s lead to two. Petry’s 10th of the season was another one on which the Rangers’ goaltender was left without a prayer. Georgiev was solid in the period, keeping the Blueshirts within reach, as they continued to lack offensive firepower. The real highlight of the second period was Mats Zuccarello’s demolishing of Rangers’-foe Brendan Gallagher in a post-whistle scuffle.
Byeeee Gallagher pic.twitter.com/vr5NQOs4Rm
— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) February 23, 2018
Period three was more of the same for the Blueshirts. Georgiev gave the Rangers a shot with a number of key saves, but he was not rewarded with enough scoring-help. Kevin Hayes notched a power-play-goal, his 15th of the season, with exactly three minutes remaining in the frame. Hayes’ goal came on the rebound of Tony DeAngelo’s wrist shot which bounced off his skate and into the net. It was originally ruled that Hayes had kicked the puck past Niemi, but an Alain Vigneault challenge said otherwise, as the call was overturned, giving Hayes his 4th goal in his last 7 games. However, it was too little too late, as Philip Danault’s empty-netter would seal the deal for the Canadiens, as they would prevail by a score of 3-1.
Tonight’s contest was just another one on the long list of embarrassing Ranger losses this season. The tank is on, and the rebuild is underway in New York, as the Blueshirts don’t even look like a formidable opponent at this point. The lone bright spot of Montreal’s triumph was the admirable performance of Alexandar Georgiev, who stopped 38 of the 40 shots he faced, which is even more impressive when you consider the make-shift defense that was staked in front of him. In fact, Georgiev made more saves than any other Rangers’ goalie ever has in their NHL debut. It looked as if most of the Blueshirts were just sort of going through the motions tonight, which was probably due to the feelings of uncertainty and uneasiness surrounding the squad. We wait and see what the future holds for captain’s Rick Nash and Ryan McDonagh, but both look like they are their way out of town, as their days seem to be numbered on Broadway. Unfortunately, it seems that we have already seen the last of these two in the Ranger blue, with both of them rumored to be gone as early as tomorrow.
The Blueshirts get a chance for redemption and another opportunity to put an end to their losing streak against the team that started their skid, when they return home for a matchup against the Minnesota Wild (7:00 PM, MSG)
Brian Paget is on Twitter @BrianPaget17