COLUMBUS, Ohio — The first quarter of the season, which Rangers coach Alain Vig neault has said was a key time to assess his team, is in the books.
After a six-game winning streak that erased a dreadful start, the Rangers lost their second straight on this road trip, falling to the Blue Jackets, 2-0, on Friday night.
It was the first time the Blueshirts (9-9-2) have been blanked this season.
“I don’t think we played well enough to win,” Mats Zuccarello said. “They get a good forecheck on us, pin us sometimes, and we’re not doing the same thing to them.”
Although the Rangers had 36 shots on Sergei Bobrovsky, who has allowed only four goals in his previous four starts, the quality of the chances wasn’t top-notch.
“We’ve got to create more, get on the inside,” Zuccarello said. “Five-on-five, we didn’t get enough pressure.”
The Rangers’ third-ranked power play, which was 0-for-3 in the 6-3 loss to Chicago on Wednesday, didn’t score in three opportunities over 5:09 on Friday.
“It’s a game when the other team makes a mistake, you’ve got to make them pay for it, and when you don’t score any goals, you didn’t make them pay,” Vigneault said.
Henrik Lundqvist, who faced 42 shots before being pulled for an extra attacker, lamented the lack of challenges to Bobrovsky. “I thought he played well, but we didn’t really test him that much,” he said. “He saw most shots; to beat him, you need to be in his face and screen him a lot.”
The margin could have been more than two if not for Lundqvist, who was pulled in Chicago at 6:42 of the third period after the Blackhawks scored three straight goals to snap a 1-1 tie.
“They had a lot of odd-man rushes, especially in the second period [when the Jackets outshot the Rangers 19-9],” Lundqvist said. “In the first, we got the puck deep. In the second, we had a tough time getting in deep. That’s when we got in trouble.”
After an evenly played first period, the Jackets controlled the second and took a 1-0 lead. With the play in the Rangers’ zone, Boone Jenner got around Brendan Smith, playing his first game after being a healthy scratch for six. Zach Werenski pounced on a loose puck, firing it past Lundqvist at 13:34.
With Pavel Buchnevich going off for interference at 6:55 of the third, the Jackets, with the worst-ranked power play in the league, made it 2-0 only 19 seconds later on Artemi Panarin’s wide-open, wicked slapper after Kevin Hayes failed to clear the zone.
“We’re only down by one goal in the third in a tough building. Then we made a bad mistake on the penalty kill on a puck that should have been down the ice,” Vigneault said. “Instead of it being a one-shot game, it’s a two-shot game.”
Before the game, Vigneault noted the team’s recent uptick. “If you look at how we’ve played in the last 10-game segment, we’ve tightened up defensively. We’re not there yet, but five-on-five, the power play and the penalty kill are coming along,’’ he said. “For our team, take it game-by-game and keep improving.”