After losses this season, Rangers coach David Quinn’s message to his team has been the same: “OK, you lost. Now, how are you going to respond?”
Well, the Rangers responded to Friday’s listless performance in Philadelphia with a better effort Saturday afternoon against the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. It just wasn’t good enough to avoid a second straight loss.
Brett Connolly’s goal with 6:24 left broke a tie and Tom Wilson sealed it with an empty-netter with 1:08 to play as the Capitals ruined the Rangers’ Thanksgiving weekend with a 5-3 win.
It was the first time the Rangers lost consecutive games since Oct. 25-28, when they dropped the first two games of a road trip. After those two losses, they won four straight en route to a 9-1-1 stretch before losing to the Flyers on Friday in Philadelphia.
“I thought today felt different than [Friday],’’ Quinn said. “I thought we didn’t play well for any stretch [Friday]. I thought [on Saturday] we had a pretty good first and a pretty good third — I thought the second was really what bothered me, because the second looked a lot like 60 minutes of [Friday’s] play.’’
The Rangers (12-10-2) took a 1-0 lead at 9:12 of the first period on a goal by Jimmy Vesey, who stepped out of the penalty box and finished a pretty three-on-one break. The Rangers made it 2-0 when Brady Skjei cranked a rebound shot past Washington goalie Pheonix Copley at 9:39 of the second period.
But Nic Dowd deflected a shot past Alexandar Georgiev to get the Capitals on the board 31 seconds later, and Jakub Vrana blew past Brett Howden on a rush up the left wing, cut in and scored on a pretty backhand roof shot to tie it at 2 at 16:27.
Alex Ovechkin got free in front of the net to jam in his 17th goal of the season with 30 seconds left in the period to put the Capitals up 3-2.
“You know, you can’t take a period off against anybody, let alone the defending Stanley Cup champions,’’ Quinn said. “I thought the second period, we just didn’t do the two things you have to do in this game that have to be in your hockey DNA — you have to skate and you have to hit people. And I don’t think we did either one of those things.’’
Ryan Strome’s first goal as a Ranger tied it at 3-3 at 5:30 of the third period, but Connolly surprised Georgiev with a one-timer off a pass from John Carlson (three assists) to regain the lead for Washington.
“I didn’t expect the second guy [Connolly] to be there,’’ said Georgiev, who made 23 saves. “I tried to play it as a one-on-one with the defenseman [Carlson], and he managed to make a pass. And while I was moving, I saw that it was a one-timer. It was a tough shot.’’
Copley made 27 saves for Washington (13-7-3, 29 points), which moved into first place in the Metropolitan Division.
Kevin Hayes, who had two assists, took no solace in the fact that the Rangers at least played much better than they did Friday against the Flyers.
“The ultimate goal is to get two points,’’ Hayes said. “You lose two of your Metro [division] games and you’re not in the picture anywhere. Now you’re fighting to get back in.’’