Pure and simple. Plain as day. Special teams doomed the Rangers Tuesday night.
They misfired on five second-period power plays and allowed a shorthanded goal and two power-play goals to the Winnipeg Jets in a 4-1 loss that ended the Blueshirts' season-opening winning streak at three.
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During a second period to erase from the memory banks, the Rangers fumbled away each power play, holding the puck too long and then trying to make a play. On the fifth one of the period, the Rangers misplayed a faceoff in their zone and Bryan Little scored the first of his two goals, beating Henrik Lundqvist with a glove-side wrister at 18:49 to give the Jets a 2-1 lead.
"It's no secret," Derek Stepan said. "If you want to have success, you need your special teams to be strong. That's something as a group we'll get figured out. You can't get too frustrated. No reason to panic yet."
The Jets (3-1) needed only eight seconds to capitalize on their initial power play. With Kevin Hayes, who struggled all night, off for hooking at 7:23 of the first period, Nikolaj Ehlers hit the net on a low shot from the left circle on a pass from Tyler Myers to tie the score at 1.
"We weren't ready to compete mentally," captain Ryan McDonagh said. "We weren't sharp with the puck, had a lot of turnovers in the neutral zone. We proved here tonight how important it is to be mentally sharp through the game."
The Rangers scored early to take the lead. Blake Wheeler's turnover triggered a three-on-one rush. Rick Nash passed up the middle to Stepan, who set up Mats Zuccarello for his third goal at 6:45. It was the eighth first-period goal for the Rangers in four games.
Lundqvist, with a desperate, athletic save, kept the score tied. With Alex Burmistrov looking at an empty net after Mark Stuart's drive caromed off the back boards, Lundqvist dove cross-crease, right to left, to block the shot at 10:34.
Midway through the first, the bigger Jets began banging and some Rangers felt the pain. Dan Girardi went to the bench favoring his left hand. Marc Staal was shaken up after a blow from Chris Thorburn. Nash was slashed on the left arm and Tanner Glass and the Jets' Mark Scheifele traded slashes, then words, before being sent off.
The power-play futility began at 2:11 of the second with Adam Pardie off for interference and continued with calls on Tyler Myers (cross-checking), the first on Mathieu Perreault (tripping) and Nicolas Petan's trip. "We created some chances, but we were just too sloppy at times, giving away pucks," Zuccarello said. "If we score on the power play, we're going to win the game."
The finishing touch came when Derick Brassard went to the box at 9:51 of the third and Little fired the puck past Lundqvist through a screen at 10:35, as the Rangers lost their structure, along with their discipline. With Lundqvist pulled for an extra attacker, Mark Stuart scored an empty-netter at 17:56.
"For whatever reason," Stepan said, "we came out tonight and we were just kind of blah."