WASHINGTON — For the first two months of the season, on those rare occasions when they actually lost a game, the Rangers could brush it off and say, “It was only one game.’’
But now it’s two.
The Rangers entered Saturday night’s game against the Capitals as the only team in the NHL that had not lost back-to-back games, but they can’t say that anymore.
Massapequa’s Sonny Milano scored for Washington in the first minute and the Capitals got three goals in the second to power their way to a 4-0 victory.
It was the first time this season the Rangers (18-6-1) were shut out.
The game was the first in Washington for Rangers coach Peter Laviolette since he parted ways with the Capitals in the spring after three years as their coach. Before the game, he was happy to be back and see some familiar faces. Afterward, he wasn’t in the mood to talk much.
“It was not good, from the start to the finish, so no sense dissecting it here publicly,’’ Laviolette said, practically gritting his teeth. “We’ve got a game tomorrow night. We’ll need to be better.’’
Washington goaltender Charlie Lindgren, the older brother of Rangers defenseman Ryan Lindgren, stopped all 31 shots he faced to post his second shutout of the season and improve to 6-2-1.
After Milano gave them the early lead, the Capitals (13-8-3) got goals from Anthony Mantha, Tom Wilson and Nicolas Aube-Kubel in the second period to erase any doubt about who was in control.
Afterward, the Rangers, who lost to the Senators, 6-2, in Ottawa on Tuesday, sounded disgusted with themselves. All pointed to Sunday’s game at the Garden against the Los Angeles Kings as an opportunity to redeem themselves.
“You don’t want to lose two in a row,’’ Jacob Trouba said. “And we know the team we’re capable of being. The panic is not in the room. I don’t think there’s an issue. We’re going to take this on the chin and move on and get a chance to be a better team tomorrow.’’
With the highest points percentage in the NHL (.771) entering the game, the Rangers clearly have done a few things right this season. But their game, particularly defensively, has been fraying of late. They’ve given up 10 goals in their last two games, 15 in their last three and 29 in their last six.
Milano’s goal at 43 seconds of the first period came on a broken coverage. He drifted backward across the slot and was wide open at the bottom of the left wing circle to accept a pass from Martin Fehervary and bang it in behind an out-of-position Igor Shesterkin (25 saves) for his fourth goal of the season.
Mantha’s goal at 1:43 of the second period came just after the penalty box door had opened to release Jonny Brodzinski from his holding penalty. Mantha somehow was wide open on the goal crease when Evgeny Kuznetsov sent a diagonal pass to him for a tip-in.
Wilson scored his ninth of the season at 5:35 of the second on a shot off the wing on a two-on-one rush after a Rangers turnover. Aube-Kubel took advantage of a fortunate bounce as Erik Gustafsson’s attempted clear hit Beck Malenstyn’s skate and ricocheted right to Aube-Kubel at the top of the slot.
“Our start wasn’t good enough and we didn’t have enough attitude and desire to go out there and get one back after losing one last game,’’ Rangers center Vincent Trocheck said. “And it just snowballed from there. We didn’t have the fight in our game.’’