Lias Andersson was excited about scoring in his NHL debut with his family in the stands, but he had to admit the timing was a little awkward in the context of the game.
“It’s always a good feeling,’’ the 19-year-old Swede said of his second-period goal in the Rangers’ 4-2 loss to the Capitals at the Garden. “The thing is, we were down 4-0, so it was tough. But I think that goal got the boys going a little bit, and we played better in the second and the third. So it was fun to score and it was fun to get better all the way. We just got to keep building on this now.’’
Building is what the rest of this Rangers season has been about ever since management announced in a Feb. 8 letter to the fans that it was giving up on this season and focusing on the future.
The rebuilding project took a big step forward Monday night with the insertion of Andersson and fellow 2017 first-round draft pick Filip Chytil in the lineup. Chytil, 18, made the Rangers out of training camp and played two games with them at the start of the season. He also got himself on the scoresheet by assisting on Mats Zuccarello’s third-period goal.
“Both kids had a good game,’’ coach Alain Vigneault said. “It was an emotional day and an emotional game for them, but I thought they played well.’’
Andersson and Chytil were called up together from AHL Hartford on Sunday and are expected to play the final six games of the season with the Rangers. Rookies can play up to nine games before the first year of their three-year NHL entry-level contract kicks in.
Both are centers by trade, and Vigneault and general manager Jeff Gorton agreed that they should play their natural positions against the Caps. Chytil, the No. 21 overall pick last summer, played between Kevin Hayes (moving from center to left wing) and Zuccarello, while Andersson, the No. 7 pick overall, was between Jimmy Vesey and Ryan Spooner, who moved from center to right wing.
It was Vesey who set up Andersson’s goal, sending a pass from behind the net that Andersson banged in from the slot against Philipp Grubauer at 13:16 of the second.
Chytil got his assist when he partially fanned on a shot and managed to knock the puck across the crease to Zuccarello, who stopped it with his skate and swept it into the net at 4:26 of the third.
When asked if he had intended to shoot or pass, Chytil grinned and said: “I don’t know. It ended in the net, so it was maybe shot, maybe pass. It was goal. But I would like to change it for a win.’’
That became unlikely after the Rangers fell into a 4-0 hole in the first period, in which goaltender Alexandar Georgiev was pulled after Alex Ovechkin’s power-play goal made it 3-0 at 8:54. Georgiev allowed three goals on six shots.
Ondrej Pavelec came in for Georgiev and played well in his first appearance since suffering a knee injury in a game Feb. 9. Pavelec faced 27 shots and stopped all but one.
“Pavs is a real good teammate,’’ Vigneault said. “He came off the bench and made some big saves. He was encouraging the kids and Alex in goal, also. It was real good to see him go in the goal there and have a good game.’’
Notes & quotes: Henrik Lundqvist, who missed three games after suffering a scary fall Thursday night in a game against Columbus, will practice Tuesday, Vigneault said, and should be ready to play Wednesday against the Capitals in Washington . . . David Desharnais, Paul Carey and Peter Holland were the Rangers’ scratches . . . Mika Zibanejad’s goal-scoring streak ended at five games, and his line with Chris Kreider and Jesper Fast was shut out after totaling 13 goals in the previous five games.