The crisis of confidence for the Rangers runs deep, from the goal crease out to the other end of the rink.
"Confidence is such an important thing in this game, and right now, it's not very high," said Henrik Lundqvist, who was pulled for the third time this season after allowing three goals in the first 11:10 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, who beat the slumping Rangers, 4-2, last night.
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"Me not coming up with the saves early, it's hurting me and the team," Lundqvist said after the Rangers dropped to 0-3-1 on this franchise-record nine-game homestand.
In the first time back at Madison Square Garden for Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov since the trade for Rick Nash (it was Nash's first game against the team he played with for nine years), the air came out of the building quickly.
Nash, who asked for a trade from the club that drafted him, had no shots on goal, no hits, missed the net with four shots and was a minus-2, displaying little of the leadership required when wearing one of three "A''s in the absence of injured captain Ryan Callahan. Anisimov scored the second goal, finishing a three-on-one at the right post at 8:46. Dubinsky, who had two high-sticking penalties in the second period, didn't score.
For the third straight game, the Rangers (15-17-1) struggled against backup goaltenders: Washington's Philipp Grubauer, Nashville's Carter Hutton and Thursday night's combination of Curtis McElhinney and Mike McKenna. McIlhinney (15 saves in the first period), playing in place of injured Sergei Bobrovsky, suffered an injury himself and was replaced by McKenna (17 saves) for the final two periods.
It is difficult to recall when the Rangers defeated the Jackets, 4-2, in Columbus on Nov. 7. They look like a different group.
"We've got to find a way to get some confidence back in our game," said Derek Stepan, who hasn't scored in 10 games and had three shots on goal but took another four that missed the net. "We had some good looks. But you can't give up three goals in the first. We've just got to find a way to get some bounces."
Columbus coach Todd Richards expected that his team would have to weather the first 10 minutes. He was wrong.
Odd-man rushes doomed the Rangers. Matt Calvert sped past Anton Stralman on the left wing and zipped a wrister past Lundqvist's glove at the 38-second mark for the fastest goal scored against the Rangers this season. After Anisimov's eighth goal, the Rangers trailed by two for the third straight game. It came during a delayed penalty to defenseman Dylan McIlrath, making his NHL debut, who got caught up ice after delivering a hit to Boone Jenner.
Cam Talbot relieved Lundqvist, who was not surprised to be pulled, after 13 shots and a third goal, when David Savard's shot hit Michael Del Zotto and deflected in at 11:10.
Dominic Moore's rebound of Benoit Pouliot's shot found the net for his first of the season at 14:08.
McKenna, in his first appearance this season, took over for McElhinney, who suffered a lower-body injury in the first. The Rangers couldn't cash in on two mostly disorganized power plays and Columbus continued to easily escape its own zone without much resistance.
Dan Girardi, trailing the rush, took a pass from Mats Zuccarello and beat McKenna at 11:07 to cut the deficit to 3-2. But Talbot (13 saves) couldn't squeeze his pads enough to stop Ryan Johansen's wrister that slid over the goal line at 18:28. And with that, the Rangers came up empty at home again. And another Rangers game trickled away.