Like an inexperienced butterfly chaser frantically waving his net, points have been almost impossible to collect for the Rangers this season.
After a loss in Columbus on Friday, in the second game of a back-to-back set, the skidding, fragile Rangers fell to the Devils, 3-2, on Saturday. It was their third straight loss, and dropped them to 1-5 this season.
The Rangers controlled play in the first period at Madison Square Garden. They were much smoother, quicker with their sticks, more connected in their transition. But the Blueshirts, who played with 11 forwards and seven defensemen, still struggled to finish.
Coach Alain Vigneault said: “We have to focus on the areas where we need to improve; that’s what we can control. For 35 minutes we played the way we know we can. But we need to capitalize on our opportunities.”
After launching 38 shots on Sergei Bobrovsky in Columbus on Friday and scoring just once in the 3-1 defeat, Devils backup Keith Kinkaid stopped all 14 shots in the first period. The Rangers came close but failed on two power plays after going 0-for-4 against the Blue Jackets. Goalie Ondrej Pavelec, making his first start as a Ranger, faced just three shots. So, the signs were promising.
In fact, Rick Nash provided a 1-0 lead with his first goal at 5:31 of the second. David Desharnais spun away from rookie Nico Hischier behind the net and slid a cross-crease pass to Nash, who had eluded John Moore and slid the puck past Kinkaid.
Adam Henrique tied the score on the Devils’ seventh shot after Brian Gibbons blocked a backhand clear attempt along the right boards with his body. Henrique put a wrister top-shelf stick side for his second of the season at 10:21.
After the Rangers repeatedly failed to clear their zone, Miles Wood deflected a Ben Lovejoy shot from the right point at 16:41 for the 2-1 lead. By the end of the period, the Devils had 12 shots and the lead; the Rangers managed just three shots on Kinkaid. The air began to seep out of the building, and it was not long before it disappeared.
“We had the momentum in the first, but nothing to show for it,” Brady Skjei said. “You’ve got to come out in the second period and play the same way, and we didn’t.”
The third period began four-on-four after Chris Kreider and Kyle Palmieri were sent off for roughing at the 20-minute mark of the second. But Tony DeAngelo’s early penalty gave the Devils a four-on-three. Exactly one minute into the period, on the power play, Will Butcher threaded a pass to Drew Stafford, skating alone through the right circle. He deked and beat Pavelec on his backhand for a two-goal lead that seemed insurmountable for these frustrated Rangers.
How futile were they? With 13:04 left in the third, the Rangers had just five shots on goal since the beginning of the second period. Nash had a very good chance for his second goal on a breakaway with 8:36 left, but Kinkaid (29 saves) appeared to deflect the puck with his glove. Kevin Shattenkirk scored his second goal of the season on a rising wrister from the point with 56.8 seconds left, but it was too late to avoid their fate.
Pavelec, on the three consecutive losses, said: “It feels like a snowball, you make one mistake and it’s going against us. We need to win games, even if it’s not going to be pretty.”