Things are falling apart for the Rangers. Playing without their leading scorer and one of their top defensemen, and facing a Devils team that hadn’t played in 16 days because so many of their players had COVID-19, the Rangers looked out of sorts as they fell to the Devils, 5-2, closing their seven-game homestand with their fourth straight loss.
"That's a team that's coming off a two-week break,’’ Rangers forward Chris Kreider said of the Devils, who last played Jan. 31. "We realize they probably were pretty excited to get back to playing hockey, but I mean, that's an unacceptable start. For the majority of the game, they outhit us, outskated us, outworked us, won more battles.
"They just -- they flat out wanted it more,’’ he said. "And, I mean, it's unacceptable.’’
To be fair, the Rangers, who were already playing without forward Artemi Panarin, who missed his second straight game with a lower-body injury, and defenseman K’Andre Miller, who was out with an upper-body injury, lost another player along the way to injury as defenseman Jacob Trouba left the game after the second period with an upper-body injury. Coach David Quinn did not have a report on Trouba after the game, and said the team would know more about his status Wednesday.
Yegor Sharangovich’s redirection of P.K. Subban'S shot broke a 2-2 tie at 10:49 of the third period , Nicholas Merkley scored on a one-timer to make it 4-2 at 14:11 and Mikhail Maltsev had an empty-net goal to close up the scoresheet.
The Rangers (4-7-3) now head to Philadelphia, where they are scheduled to play Thursday against the Flyers -- though as of Tuesday, the Flyers still had seven players on their COVID list. After that, they will go to Washington for a game against the Capitals Saturday that was changed from a night game to a 12:30 p.m. faceoff.
The Devils outshot the Rangers 16-9 in the scoreless opening period, and during a television timeout, Quinn gathered the entire team around him to let them know he wasn’t happy with what he was seeing from them. Thankfully for Quinn and the Rangers, goaltender Igor Shesterkin (32 saves) was at the top of his game, making several excellent stops, or they would have surely been down by multiple goals by intermission.
The Devils opened the scoring in the second period on Pavel Zacha’s power play goal at 7:37. It was the first power-play goal the Rangers had allowed in seven games after 21 straight successful kills.
The Rangers, though, tied the score on a goal by Colin Blackwell at 11:32. Blackwell had started the game on the first line with Kreider and Mika Zibanejad, but by the middle of the first period he’d been dropped to the third line with Brett Howden and Phil DiGiuseppe, as Quinn put Pavel Buchnevich back on the first line with Kreider and Zibanejad.
Buchnevich would also score in the second period, to make it 2-2 in the final minute of the frame. The Devils had taken a 2-1 lead on a goal credited to Will Butcher after his shot caromed in off the leg of Trouba at 17:14, but Buchnevich took a pass from Kreider and whipped a wrist shot off the glove of Devils goalie Mackenzie Blackwood and in with 32.1 seconds to go in the period. It was his fourth goal of the season and his first since an empty-netter against Washington Feb. 4.
But the Rangers could not take any momentum from the late goal.
"You would think that we would generate some momentum, getting that goal in the end of the second,’’ Quinn said. "And it just didn't happen. A lot of things didn't happen tonight for us.’’