COLUMBUS, Ohio - Saturday night's 5-2 loss to the Blue Jackets was atypical of what has become the Rangers' style.
"The forecheck wasn't very good, the d-zone play wasn't very good," Marc Staal said, listing a litany of failures. "We knew they were going to come hard. We could've used a little more poise in situations where we usually make good, safe passes. The times we were able to do that, we either gave it back to them or couldn't get anything going on . . . We spent a lot of the game chasing the puck."
Under Alain Vigneault, the Rangers have become a north-south team, using speed to retrieve and move pucks through the neutral zone. But with a shuffled defense in their first game without Dan Boyle, an unsteady Cam Talbot in goal and a gritty opponent willing to throw the body in its home opener, the Rangers never led and couldn't handle the Jackets' pressure.
"I don't think it was for lack of effort or will," captain Ryan McDonagh said. "We spent a lot of time in our zone. Their goals were d-zone cycling, stuff that's been a staple for us."
McDonagh lamented the coverage in front. "It's a good lesson: you can't expect to win with your B-game," he said.
The Rangers trailed 2-0 after 20 minutes, and that didn't include Jack Skille's shot that beat Talbot but hit the post. Talbot wasn't as sharp as he was last season in absorbing shots.
Artem Anisimov's one-timer zipped past Talbot for a 1-0 lead at 6:24 on "a shot that I probably should have saved," Talbot said. "I didn't see him the first time. I looked the second time and he was ready to wind up. I need better recognition [and] maybe I get a piece of that."
At 12:36, Lee Stempniak leveled Anisimov near the benches and went off for charging. Two minutes later, Stempniak came out of the box and was dragged down by Jack Johnson after a rush. When he stood up behind the net after the whistle, Scott Hartnell blasted Stempniak, but Hartnell wasn't penalized.
Then Nick Foligno followed his shot that was stopped by J.T. Miller's skate in front, diving headfirst and swiping the puck past Talbot (19 saves) at 17:33 to make it 2-0.
Stempniak's goal on Anthony Duclair's pass from the right corner cut it to 2-1 at 5:43 of the second. But Cam Atkinson, in another dive toward into the crease, restored the two-goal lead by poking Foligno's pass across the goal line at 9:49.
"There were a lot of 50-50 pucks that they got to. Whether they were quicker than we were or they wanted it a little more, I don't know," Vigneault said. "And they did win the net-front battles. They got to a lot of second opportunities."
Sergei Bobrovsky (24 saves) made the save of the game with 3:49 left in the second period, diving to his right to rob Martin St. Louis after a two-on-one pass from Rick Nash.
With a minute left, Skille blindsided Mats Zuccarello at mid-ice and Chris Kreider retaliated. Kreider, who thought the Rangers "were getting pushed around early," received two minutes for instigating, five for fighting and a 10-minute misconduct. Skille also got five for fighting, but he was not penalized for his hit on Zuccarello, and Vigneault was furious.
"I assume [Kreider] asked the guy if he wanted to dance and he said, 'Yes,' '' Vigneault said. "I don't see how you get an instigator out of that."
Marko Dano scored his first NHL goal for Columbus with 6:13 left to make it 4-1. Nash scored 32 seconds later, but the Blue Jackets sealed it when Atkinson scored into an empty net.