Not only do the Rangers have to dig themselves out of a three-game losing streak at home, they will be without their injury-prone captain Ryan Callahan for 4-6 weeks.
After Tuesday night's 4-1 loss to the Nashville Predators, coach Alain Vigneault said that Callahan suffered a second-degree MCL sprain of the left knee during the first period, when he collided with Predators defenseman Victor Bartley, who spun into the glass and his leg swung around. Callahan's leg jammed against the boards. He hobbled to the bench and went to the locker room a minute later.
Callahan, who has seven goals and six assists in 24 games, missed training camp, the exhibition season and the first game while rehabbing from shoulder surgery. He missed seven games after he broke his left thumb on a blocked shot against Washington on Oct. 16.
The loss and the injury news came despite Vigneault's plea for a push-back, a closed-door meeting Sunday and a shake-up of the lines.
The Predators, losers of five straight and starting their third-string goalie, Carter Hutton, were struggling like the Rangers. They had scored just seven goals in those games; the power play was 0-for-14.
But Nashville's stats didn't matter. The Predators scored twice in the first period, an omen when it came to the Rangers, who were 1-13 when the opponent struck first.
Nick Spaling finished a quick passing play in front of Henrik Lundqvist, who had allowed four goals in each of his previous two starts, at 13:45 after Ryan McDonagh crashed awkwardly into the end boards. "One guy gets hurt and the guy [Spaling] gets a point-blank shot," Brad Richards said. "If he's not laying on the ice, it's probably not there. When you dig yourself into holes, it always seems to go that way."
Then Rich Clune edged ahead of Dominic Moore, who had been checked into the opposite net, took a head-man pass from Matt Hendricks and scored on a backhander at 17:52.
Hutton, who made 28 saves, had not played in 13 games since a 5-0 loss to the Devils. Rick Nash scored the lone goal for the Rangers, his sixth, at 6:38 of the second to cut the lead to 2-1, collecting a pass from the left point from Richards and going to his forehand. Derick Brassard, who assisted on Nash's goal, almost tied the score near the end of the period, but his shot hit off the near post from the right side.
The Rangers needed a strong start in the third period, but at 2:38, both Mats Zuccarello and Dan Girardi were down on the ice, the puck came loose and Hendricks came in alone to put it past Lundqvist for the 3-1 lead.
"The third goal killed us," Lundqvist said.
Paul Gaustad added an empty-netter with 1:06 left.
On Nov. 23, the Rangers won, 2-0, in Nashville with Cam Talbot in goal and were 12-11. That seems light years ago; the club dropped to 15-16-1 after Tuesday night's loss.
"The only thing I know right now is it can only go up," Lundqvist said. "It's extremely tough mentally and you try to be positive. You have to. There are so many games left. It's just a really tough stretch for us where it's hard to get points."