CALGARY, Alberta — The Rangers were never expected to be a playoff contender in this rebuilding season, but for much of the time, they had done a decent job of hanging in against some of the top teams in the league.
But reality set in a while ago for the Blueshirts, and now their season has begun to unravel on this swing through Western Canada.
The Flames, one of the elite teams in the Western Conference, were simply too much on Friday night, getting two goals and three assists from Matthew Tkachuk in a 5-1 win over the Rangers.
“We just weren’t real dialed in defensively tonight, obviously,’’ coach David Quinn said. “Not only the goals that they scored, but how many times did you look up and there’s a one-on-three in front of our net? We cheated the game too often tonight; very loose defensively. Didn’t want to hit anyone, didn’t want to get hit. And we played very slow.’’
The Rangers (28-30-13) are 0-2-1 on their four-game road trip, which concludes Saturday night in Minnesota. They are 2-5-5 in their last 12 games, with their only victories in that stretch coming against the lowly and banged-up Devils.
Rangers forward Chris Kreider offered a “no comment’’ when asked at the morning skate about his ejection from Wednesday’s game in Vancouver and his subsequent $5,000 fine by the NHL for his five-minute elbowing penalty against Elias Pettersson.
“What happened happened,’’ Kreider said. “Obviously, it was unfortunate.’’
Kreider wasn’t in the mood to talk about his or the team’s recent struggles, either, other than saying, “We’ve got to find ways to win games . . . We’re finding ways to lose games right now.’’
With the score tied at 1 after the first period, the Flames struck for two quick goals early in the second. Tkachuk got the first one at 2:56, tipping in a shot from defenseman Mark Giordano for his 31st goal. Rangers goalie Alexandar Georgiev complained that Tkachuk had deflected the puck in with a high stick, but the goal stood. Garnet Hathaway then got free on the goal crease to redirect Tkachuk’s pass from the right corner at 4:06. Tkachuk set up a goal by Michael Frolik at 5:12 of the third and scored at 9:49.
The teams exchanged goals 1:10 apart in the first period. The Flames’ Johnny Gaudreau converted a breakaway at 10:00 for his 34th goal. Neal Pionk got that back at 11:10 with his sixth goal and first since Dec. 23, ending a drought of 29 games. The goal was Pionk’s first point in nine games and his third in 30 games.
Mika Zibanejad, the Rangers’ leader in goals and assists, has gone eight games without a goal and has only three assists in that stretch. Kreider, who is second on the team in goals and assists, is goal-less in nine games, with only two assists in that stretch.
Quinn split up the pair last week, but he reunited them with Jesper Fast on right wing against the Canucks. Quinn kept Kreider and Zibanejad together Friday, this time with Jimmy Vesey at right wing for the first two periods and Pavel Buchnevich for the third.
“If you don’t score and you win, that’s another thing, but when you don’t score, and you’re supposed to be productive . . . and we don’t win, then you feel like you could do a little bit more, obviously,’’ Zibanejad said. “We’re just trying to get a win . . . If we can score, probably it helps.’’