NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The two-game, Fathers Weekend road trip had started off so perfectly for the Rangers, with a blowout win in Detroit on Thursday. And hopes were high for a sweep when the Blueshirts moved on to Music City for the trip finale.
But the Rangers could not build on that momentum. The Nashville Predators, wallowing near the bottom of the NHL’s Central Division, got the first two goals of the game and hung on to beat the Rangers, 2-1, dealing the Blueshirts their third regulation loss in five games.
The Rangers, who held a 35-18 shot advantage, couldn’t solve goaltender Juuse Saros in the third, not even with a golden chance to tie it after being awarded a four-minute power play with 6:19 left. But their power play, normally their most dangerous weapon, came up empty late and finished 0-for-5 overall.
“It wasn’t as good as it should have been,’’ coach Gerard Gallant said of the power-play unit. “I mean, that was the difference, obviously. They had some looks, but they didn’t have the premier looks that they usually get. Just a little off, that’s all.’’
Jaroslav Halak made 16 saves. Halak fell to 0-4-1 but the Rangers have scored only five goals in his five starts. Igor Shesterkin is 7-2-2 (the Rangers have scored 43 goals in his 11 starts).
Coming off the 8-2 win Thursday in Detroit, in which they exploded for six goals in the third period, the Rangers were naturally hoping they would be able to build on that performance.
They weren’t able to, though, and afterward, the message in the Rangers’ locker room was a similar one to what they’ve been saying for a while, now: They’re playing well, but they aren’t getting the breaks.
“I mean yeah, it’s disappointing we lost, I don’t think we played bad, though,’’ said forward Vincent Trocheck, who had a shot ring off the post in the second period. “I thought we played well. We got tons of chances. It’s just a matter of being able to put them in the net. They just didn’t want to go in for us tonight.’’
With the Rangers playing a back-to-back this weekend — they return home to face the Arizona Coyotes on Sunday at the Garden — Halak figured to start one of the games. And given his lifetime 15-4-6 record against Nashville, with a 1.99 goals-against average, .927 save percentage and four shutouts, it made sense for him to start against the Predators.
But the Predators scored on their second shot of the game, when rookie Juuso Parssinen, called up from the AHL earlier in the day and playing in his first NHL game, drove down the right wing, cut in around Alexis Lafreniere, and then flicked a shot past Halak at 4:58. Lafreniere was the player back on defense when K’Andre Miller pinched deep and was unable to keep the puck in, allowing Nashville to break out 2-on-2.
The Rangers outshot Nashville by a wide margin over the first two periods, 27-11, but they failed to capitalize on three power plays, and found themselves trailing 2-0 when Mark Jankowski got free all alone at the back post and tapped in a feed from Roman Josi at 8:37 of the second period.
Trocheck collected the puck behind his own net and tried to flip it out of the zone, but he couldn’t get it over the glove of Josi, who caught the puck, drove to the slot, then sent a cross-slot pass to Jankowski.
But the Rangers finally got on the board when Filip Chytil scored his fourth goal of the season at 11:56. Chytil fired a shot in the slot off a nifty feed from Adam Fox, who had carried the puck into the zone, and then skated behind the net to retrieve it after Kaapo Kakko’s shot deflected wide.
The goal was Chytil’s 100th point in the NHL.