Some say it’s not how you start but how you finish — but f
or the Rangers lately, it’s their starts that have been killing them.
When the 18-6-1 Blueshirts closed out a weekend back-to-back Sunday night at Madison Square Garden against the 16-4-4 Los Angeles Kings, they were attempting to stop their first losing streak of the season at two games — and trying to score the game’s first goal for a change.
The Rangers had allowed the first goal in each of their previous four games. They fell behind against the Predators and Sharks last weekend, to the Senators on Tuesday and to the Capitals on Saturday.
In Saturday night’s 4-0 dud in Washington, Massapequa native Sonny Milano scored an easy goal 43 seconds into the game.
“I think we were slow for the first, at least the first half of the first period,’’ said Mika Zibanejad, who was on the ice for that first goal. “We started creating some chances [later in the period], but it’s not the start we wanted. And we kind of didn’t get up to our level.’’
The Rangers, who were the first team in the NHL to get to 18 wins this season, fell to third place in the overall standings after the loss to Washington.
Entering Sunday, the Blueshirts had 37 points and trailed Vegas (41) and Boston (39). They also dropped to third in points percentage (.740) behind Boston and Los Angeles (each at .750).
A clearly unhappy coach Peter Laviolette — who was booed by the crowd Saturday when the center ice video board welcomed him back to Washington for the first time since he and the team parted ways last spring — was asked what needed to change Sunday in order for the Rangers to pull themselves out of this first rough patch of the season.
“The drop of the puck,’’ Laviolette said through tightly clenched teeth. “It’s a chance to play a game after not playing the game that you want to play [Saturday]. So it’s a chance to get back out there and not have to sit on it for a few days.’’
In their first 25 games, the Rangers scored the opening goal 16 times and were 13-2-1 in those games. They were 5-4 in games in which they allowed the first goal.
Against Washington, the Rangers seemed to right themselves somewhat after Milano’s goal, and the game was fairly even for the rest of the period. But a holding penalty against Jonny Brodzinski with 18.6 seconds left in the period put the Capitals on the power play, which carried over for the first 1:42 of the second period. Anthony Mantha scored an easy tap-in goal at 1:43, and the Rangers never recovered.
“I don’t think anyone wants to start a period with getting scored on that early, and we do it twice,’’ Zibanejad said. “I don’t know if that’s a turning point, but it definitely doesn’t help us.
“Yeah, we created some chances [afterward], but I think it’s 4-0 by then. I think you guys have seen us play when we’re up by a few goals, that we kind of start to loosen up a little bit and the other team starts creating chances. And I think the chances that we created was kind of maybe them not playing as hard defensively as they would have at 0-0.’’
Sunday’s game was the close of the Rangers’ third straight weekend back-to-back and the start of a three-game homestand, with games Tuesday against Toronto and Friday against Anaheim before they face Boston on Saturday in another back-to-back.