When the Rangers fail on any given night---or in this case, any given afternoon---it is generally due to poor starts and defensive breakdowns.
In today's matinee against the Ottawa Senators, in which the Rangers started sluggishly, a massive breakdown allowed Chris Kelly to beat Henrik Lundqvist from alone in front on Jarkko Ruutu's pass from behind the net with 2:24 left in regulation to snap a 1-1 tie and send the Rangers to yet another home defeat. Kelly's hat-trick empty netter with 0.8 left put the finishing touches on the Blueshirts' 3-1 loss, their ninth at Madison Square Garden compared to six wins.
The Sean Avery-Erik Christensen-Marian Gaborik line, which had nine points in the 6-5 defeat of the Islanders three games ago, had just one shot, from Gaborik, who was a minus-3. And they were on ice with defensemen Michael Sauer and Steve Eminger when the game-winner occurred. The Rangers couldn't clear the puck and were too late in finding the quicker Senators.
"That's a line with two minutes left, they have to defend," said coach John Tortorella. "The whole group on the ice has to defend, not just one person." Henrik Lundqvist (22 saves) took some blame. "The puck was behind the net and I didn't pick up the guy until it was too late," he said.
The guy was Kelly, who has six goals on the season and also capitalized on a bad pass and a turnover for an unassisted shorthander to open the scoring at 4:27 of the second period. It was the first goal for the Senators, who had been shut out in the two previous games, in almost 203 minutes.
"It's an awful play by Gabby as far as passing the puck to Step (Derek Stepan)," said Tortorella, whose power play was 0-for-4 and allowed the shorthander. "Don't blame Step. He's put in a tough spot. Our power play was oh-fer, but we had some good looks. He isn't the problem. There are a few other people that are the problem. I think he's quarterbacking it pretty well. We'll have to teach him some more. " Gaborik, who thought he had been pulled down with no call before the goal, acknowledged his weak pass. "I have to make a better play to Step there, it kinda bounced on me a little bit and he couldn't do much."
The Rangers, who visit Ottawa Thursday, tied the game at 10:50 of the second with their own shorthander. Ruslan Fedotenko was off for high-sticking, and Brandon Prust scooted down the right side as Marc Staal came down the middle with Erik Karlsson back. Prust's high glove shortsider beat Pascal Leclaire.
In the first, when they managed just five shots, the Rangers were so dreadful that Tortorella called a timeout at 4:09. "That certainly didn't help us, we were still awful," Tortorella said. "Our guys were asleep in the first twenty minutes. Why we were asleep, I don't have an answer, so there's no sense in asking. I'm hoping this was a blip on the screen. It wasn't just one person, it was everybody. I hope we learn our lesson. I thought we regrouped. But you could just sense it, when we couldn't score that second goal, you knew something was going to happen."
So the Rangers (16-12-1), who had swept the back-to-back against the Islanders, took another step back in an inconsistent dance that has plagued them all season.
Dan Girardi (12) and Brian Boyle (2) assisted on Prust's shortie, his third goal of the season and second in three games...Leclaire won his first ever game against the Rangers...Fedotenko had seven shots...Rangers lost the faceoff war 61-39.Jason Spezza and Kelly won 20 of 31.