NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Rangers hit the road here Monday night for a three-game trip, hoping they had put their late-autumn swoon behind them after a victory over the Ducks on Dec. 22, followed by a six-day holiday break.
Instead, they reverted to recent form, falling to the Predators, 5-3, at Bridgestone Arena to extend their road slump to 0-6-2 since they last won away from Madison Square Garden, on Nov. 21.
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The Predators were the last team the Rangers defeated during their scorching start, a 3-0 victory Nov. 23 at the Garden that at the time gave them a 16-3-2 record. Since then they are 4-10-2.
Coach Alain Vigneault clearly is fed up.
When it was over he said: “We don’t have enough guys right now bringing it. We have got some guys that are battling hard, but we don’t have enough guys bringing their ‘A’ game to the table, and we’re going to need to figure it out real quickly here.”
In particular, Vigneault was upset with Derick Brassard for what he twice disgustedly called an “unnecessary” roughing penalty in the first period that set up the game’s first goal — on the power play by the Predators’ Filip Forsberg.
The Rangers were dominated in the first, getting outshot 9-1 at one point, before playing a better second period and entering the third trailing 2-1.
Then the Preds scored thrice to make it 5-1 and Vigneault pulled goalie Henrik Lundqvist in what is becoming an increasingly common occurrence.
“Tonight was nothing about Henrik,” Vigneualt said. “I mean, they were teeing it up from the ladies’ tee. At 5-1, I thought it was time to give him a break. He gave us a chance. As a team, we need to respond better, there’s no doubt.”
Lundqvist did appear shell-shocked as he sat by his locker.
“Personally, you try to work really hard to get a good game and be there and then in a few minutes it’s all destroyed,” he said.
“I felt pretty good for 2 1⁄2 periods and then in a couple of minutes it just snowballed again, like so many times here. It’s tough on your confidence, obviously, but you just have to work through it.”
The Rangers have allowed five or more goals in six of their past eight games.
The Rangers welcomed defensemen Kevin Klein and Dan Girardi back after Klein had missed 11 games with a strained oblique muscle and Girardi four with a knee injury. Backup goaltender Antti Raanta also returned, from a head injury.
Forsberg appeared to put the Preds up 3-1 at 5:18 of the third when he came around the back of the net and banked in the puck, apparently off Dominic Moore’s leg.
But the Rangers challenged, arguing Lundqvist had been interfered with by Craig Smith, and the goal was erased.
The Predators did get their third goal when Smith tipped in a shot by Roman Josi at 7:34. Lundqvist argued that Smith had hit the puck with a high stick. After a review, the goal stood.
Moore was in the box when Ryan Ellis’ power-play goal made it 4-1, then James Neal’s second goal increased the lead to 5-1.
Rick Nash, who had nine shots on goal for the Rangers, and J.T. Miller scored late to make it more respectable.
“You try to look at the good things right now to stay confident and believe in what you do,” Lundqvist said. “I don’t know what else to say right now.”