WASHINGTON — Early in the week, when the Rangers were still in the midst of their one-game-in-11-days stretch, coach David Quinn had said he didn’t want to be hasty in making too many changes within his lineup, given the fact the Rangers had only played three games and didn’t have much of a sample size on which to base any judgments.
But after two losses in a row, Quinn felt the need to do something. And so, the second-year coach jumbled his forward lines for Friday’s game against the Washington Capitals, moving struggling Chris Kreider up from the second line to the top line, putting him on the right wing with Artemi Panarin and Kreider’s longtime centerman, Mika Zibanejad.
Pavel Buchnevich, who had been the first line right wing for the first four games of the season, dropped down to Kreider’s spot on the left of the second line, with center Brett Howden and rookie right wing Kaapo Kakko, and Quinn tinkered with the third and fourth lines, too, and changed up a couple of defense pairs as well.
The changes weren’t enough to halt the losing streak, though. T.J. Oshie had two power play goals and John Carlson had three assists as the Capitals closed out a homestand with a 5-2 victory that extended the Rangers’ losing streak to three games and dropped their record below .500 for the first time this season (2-3). Kreider had an assist on a goal by Panarin and Buchnevich had a power play goal, but it wasn’t enough as the Rangers dropped both ends of a back-to-back against the Devils and Capitals. They return to action Sunday afternoon against the Vancouver Canucks at the Garden.
“It’s tough to tell right now,’’ Quinn said when asked if he thought the changes he made were working. “I liked some of the things that line did, but I have to watch the film a little bit more to have a better answer for you.’’
Kreider thought things looked well enough.
“Every shift, it felt like we were half-a-second here, or there away from popping one,'' Kreider said. "We were generating some good chances.
“We were so close, doing a lot of things pretty well, five-on-five, getting pucks to the net, crashing the net,’’ he said. “And it came down to special teams, and that team is very good at special teams. It's something we talked about before the game. You can't take penalties against that team. We took penalties, and that's what they do, they score. And they got the number one penalty kill in the game to go along with it. So, getting a penalty kill, or a special teams battle with them, it's going to be tough sledding.’’
The Caps scored on two of four power plays, while the Rangers scored on one of four. Quinn, though, didn’t think special teams was the reason for this loss.
“For me… it was just how bad we were defensively,’’ he said. “Just, the glaring chances we gave up; the number of glaring chances we gave up; the turnovers, a lack of urgency in the D zone, that's where all our troubles started.’’
The Caps opened the scoring just 2:24 into the game when, with Panarin sitting out a slashing penalty, Oshie scored his first goal, whacking at a puck enough times until it trickled by Henrik Lundqvist and went in off the skate of defenseman Marc Staal. Buchnevich’s goal tied things up at 12:25, but Michal Kempny, playing his first game of the season and first since he tore a hamstring in March, scored with 4:44 remaining in the period to restore Washington’s lead.
Nic Dowd’s rebound goal early in the second made it 3-1 and the Caps had many chances to extend the lead, but Lundqvist kept them at bay with several fine saves. Panarin’s goal at 16:56 of the second period pulled the Rangers to within 3-2, but Oshie’s second goal, at 10:18 of the third, made it 4-2, and Garnet Hathaway added an empty netter in the final 30 seconds to wrap things up.