NEW YORK – At least the New York Rangers are finding creative ways to lose hockey games. Sunday, the team was done in by a rare 5-on-3 shorthanded goal at a key point in the game, before falling to the Philadelphia Flyers, 5-2 at Madison Square Garden. The loss was the Rangers seventh in the last eight games.
The Rangers entered the second period down 1-0 with a man advantage. Jeff Carter was sent to the penalty box after 19 seconds to give the Blueshirts a 5-on-3 powerplay and a golden opportunity to even the score. Instead, Flyers captain Mike Richards managed to score for the visitors, delivering a blow from which the Rangers never recovered. Philadelphia scored three more times before the period was over, to take a 5-0 lead and effectively put the game out of reach.
“You get in a 5-on-3, you’re down one, a big point in the game, it ends up in your net, it’s not good,” a visibly dejected Chris Drury said after the game. “That goal was a killer, no question,” said Henrik Lundqvist, who had one of his worst nights as a Ranger. Lundqvist saved just 10 of 14 shots before being pulled for Stephen Valiquette halfway through the second period. “After that we had a couple of minutes where we were running around and lost focus a little bit…it’s a tough way to lose a game, a big game.”
Lauri Korpoikoski and Nikolai Zherdev scored for the Rangers in the third period to briefly make things interesting. But despite doing everything they could to pressure Martin Biron’s net, there were no other goals in the game. “Disappointment, frustration…just a tough, tough day for us,” said Lundqvist.
The Flyers run in the second period prompted the inevitable “Fire Renney” and “Fire Sather” chants from the Garden faithful. Asked about the chants after the game, Rangers head coach Tom Renney said he took “full responsibility for where this team is right now.” The coach’s job, he said “is to correct this, get us winning, get us feeling better about ourselves, be a solution–as simple as that.”
Drury did not accept management’s role in the team’s slump. “They’re not the ones on the ice,” he said of Sather and Renney. “We put the jerseys on. They give us guidelines on what our system is on what the scouring report is on what the game plan is [but] we’ve got to execute it. Clearly, a 5-2 loss at home we’re not executing.”
The Rangers captain went a step further, telling reporters to “write your stories, your whatever. It [criticism of the team] should start with me.”
Drury, clearly his own harshest critic, said he was disappointed in his own performance. “I look in the mirror; I’m not doing what I was brought here to do,” he said. “I’m not leading the way I should lead, not playing the way i should play.”
Renney said he would be challenging the players in one-on-one settings in the days ahead. “I think we’re a good staff and I think we’re capable of doing that and this team wants very badly to win,” he said. “So it’s all hands on deck right now.” Renney would not name individual players when asked, saying only “pick a name. We all have to step up right now. It’s not exclusive to one guy. It’s an all-in thing. It’s time to man up.”
Drury was more downcast. “Losing is no fun,” he said. “It keeps you up at night. It kills you. It eats at all of us. We’ve got to find a way to get wins here.”
The team is fading fast in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference. First place in the division, which seemed such a realistic possibility just a short time ago, is now nine points away, with the New Jersey Devils also having a game in hand over New York. Philadelphia is now firmly entrenched in second place, three points ahead of the Blueshirts with two games in hand, while Florida and Buffalo are breathing down the Rangers neck in the conference standings. New York is tied with Montreal for fifth place in the Eastern Conference, with both teams on 66 points but the Canadiens having played one game less. The Sabres and Panthers are both on 64 points. A playoff berth, in other words, could quickly become jeapordized if the Rangers keep this up.
They’ll have a chance to set things on the right path on Monday night, when they visit the St. Louis Blues.