Rangers blanked by Capitals in second straight ugly loss


WASHINGTON — This was not the prolific response the Rangers have come to expect from themselves in games following bad losses.

Saturday night’s 4-0 defeat at the hands of the Capitals was instead the type of performance that draws some legitimate concern for the habits that have consistently crept into the Blueshirts’ game as of late. It may be the first somewhat worrisome stretch of the season for the Rangers, but it has officially arrived.

The Rangers had not lost two games in a row this season until Tuesday’s 6-2 loss in Ottawa and Saturday’s loss in Washington bookended two practice days, over which the team worked to eliminate costly mistakes.

Every mistake on the Capital One Arena ice, however, proved to be costly Saturday night.

The Rangers have gone from a cohesive offense and defense that fed off of one another to treating both sides of the puck like separate entities.

There’s been a lack of flow to their game, and it manifested in the Rangers’ apparent disconnect on offense, which led to the team getting shut out for the first time this season.

A diving Igor Shesterkin is unable to stop Sonny Milano’s shot for the first goal of the game in the Rangers’ 4-0 loss to the Capitals. NHLI via Getty Images

It hasn’t helped that Igor Shesterkin, who allowed four goals on 29 shots, hasn’t come up with the otherworldly saves he’s known for.

The loss spoiled Rangers head coach Peter Laviolette’s return to Washington, where the 59-year-old coached the previous three seasons. Capitals fans gave Laviolette a mixed welcome back of cheers and boos when he was shown on the jumbotron.

The Rangers started Saturday night’s game the same way they ended Tuesday’s matchup in Ottawa: with holes in their defensive structure.

Jacob Trouba (right) and Sonny Milano fall to the ice after a collision during the Rangers’ loss. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

As a result, Washington struck 43 seconds into the game when Sonny Milano took a circle-to-circle feed from Martin Fehervary and buried it. That marked the fourth game in a row the Rangers allowed the first goal of the game.

After opening the scoring more often than not to start the season, the Rangers have given up the first goal in five of the past six games.

The Rangers just couldn’t finish the handful of quality chances they generated to even the score in the first. Most notably, Alexis Lafreniere chipped Braden Schneider’s pass over the Capitals net and Chris Kreider whiffed on Mika Zibanejad’s backdoor feed.

Jimmy Vesey (left) and Nicolas Aube-Kubel get into a fight during the third period of the Rangers’ defeat. AP

Laviolette has repeatedly described the Rangers’ recent issues as correctable, and it’s true, they are almost all preventable.

Anthony Mantha was allowed to skate in front of the Rangers net completely uncontested on his 2-0 score just under two minutes into the second period, which counted as the first of the Capitals’ three-goal middle frame.

Washington then made it a 3-0 game on Tom Wilson’s goal off an odd-man rush.

And a Rangers defensive zone turnover led to Nicolas Aube-Kubel scoring his second of the season for the 4-0 Capitals lead.

Not even Jimmy Vesey tracking down Aube-Kubel all the way from the Rangers zone to challenge the Capitals forward to a fight in the third period could spark the visitors. Vesey took issue with a collision he had with Aube-Kubel, which resulted in a cut above his eye and forced the Rangers wing to briefly retreat to the locker room.

There hasn’t been much for the Rangers to fret over so far this season.

Still sitting comfortably in first place in the Metropolitan Division, the Rangers built a cushion that can withstand a tough stretch.

But this is how downward spirals start. The Rangers will want to get back on an upward trajectory quickly.

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