The pathetic effort from the Rangers in their home opener against the Maple Leafs on Thursday was one thing. Tonight's collapse against the Ottawa Senators? A whole different level of disappointment. The Rangers had this game in the palms of their hands, up 4-1 in the third period with the crowd on their side, but once Jason Spezza scored for the Senators to cut the deficit to 4-2, New York deflated and things quickly went downhill from there. At that point, they were destined to lose.
John Tortorella's squad picked up where they left off on Thursday in the first period of this one, playing dismal hockey and being outshot badly. The Rangers were a step slower than their opponent in the first 20 minutes, forcing the crowd to get on them early and bring out the "We Want Avery" chants. Chris Neil scored late in the period to give Ottawa a 1-0 lead, leaving the Blueshirts to get boo'd off the ice.
The team came out with more energy in the second period, and Zenon Kenopka's boarding penalty on Artem Anisimov rewarded them with a 5-minute powerplay. Captain Ryan Callahan got things going when he roofed a rebound over Anderson and that was followed up by a strong attempt from Brad Richards that also resulted in a goal from the low slot. The Rangers entered the second intermission with a 2-1 lead and all of the momentum in their possession.
That continued in the third period with Marian Gaborik's one-timer on a beautiful feed from Derek Stepan, and then Richards buried his second of the game, also a one-timer from the slot area. Jason Spezza responded for the Senators with two goals of his own to make it 4-3 and by then the Rangers entered panic mode and had clearly lost focus.
Milan Michalek scored the tying goal, just barely squeaking a rebound through Henrik Lundqvist's legs. I'm starting to wonder if Henrik is losing his focus in the third period after having to keep his team in the game for pretty much the entire 40 minutes prior, because this is two straight games now in which he's let up uncharacteristic soft goals in the final stanza. It very well could just be a coincidence, but it's also extremely unlike him. Something's not right there in my opinion.
The Rangers had the better of the chances in overtime but Craig Anderson stood tall and forced the game to a shootout. Michalek was the only player to score in the shootout for either team, completing the full comeback for the Senators, 5-4.
One of the players who did not convert for the Rangers in the shootout was Erik Christensen, and that prompted an "A-very" chant among the Garden faithful on hand. Christensen began the game on the first line, but midway through two periods found himself on the fourth line after once again playing emotionless hockey. If Tortorella is not convinced now that Christensen is a waste of a roster spot then he shouldn't be a coach at the professional level because it's quite obvious to everyone else.
Now this is not to make a case for Avery, either. I'm just pointing out that Christensen serves absolutely no purpose on this team.
The Rangers' concern for their defense must be growing, because a colossal collapse such as this one throws up some red flags. Obviously the team greatly misses Marc Staal in situations like that, but there's not miracle medicine to cure concussion symptoms, so they need to find a fix now. Whether that's through strategy or personnel will be up to the coaching staff and management, but things are only going to get worse from here if the problem is ignored.
Tortorella said after the game that he did not think Wojtek Wolski's penalty for an "illegal hit to the head" was valid, but it did lead to the tying goal in the third period. Personally, I didn't see it because MSG did not show a replay, so I can't comment. Wolski also disagreed with the call.
But either way, you can't pinpoint the loss on that one play. It's the whole sixty minutes that have been a problem because the Rangers cannot seem to put up a consistent effort for all of them. There are too many separate problems to point a finger at any one of them, so you have to look at the big picture. And right now, at 3-3-3, that picture is very blurry.