This was supposed to be the part of the season where the Rangers made up lost ground.
So far, though, it hasn’t happened.
The Rangers — in the midst of a franchise record nine-game homestand (the Blueshirts play 20 of 30 at MSG leading up to the Olympic break) — have started with a thud, dropping a 4-3 OT decision to New Jersey on Saturday followed by a dismal 4-1 defeat to Washington on Sunday.
Following the Caps loss, New York held a players-only meeting to try and make sense of its 5-7-1 record at MSG this season. Captain Ryan Callahan said things had to change — starting ASAP.
“We have to respond,” Callahan said, as per the Bergen Record. “It’s not good enough at home. This is a long home stand and now it takes the guys in here to respond and be better. It starts Tuesday night and that’s how we are looking at this.
“We have a challenge in front of us and now we have to answer it.”
The Rangers will host Nashville on Tuesday and know how crucial a victory is. The Rangers head into tonight’s action on the outside of the playoff picture (15-15-1, 31 points) and that has much to do with their poor start to the season — the Blueshirts opened 3-7-0, which included a grueling nine-game road swing while MSG was being renovated.
And that’s what makes this homestand so important. The schedule allows for few opportunities moving forward — New York won’t have anything longer than a four-game home set for the rest of the season — and, when the slate was first released, everybody looked at this stretch as the time when New York would surge forward.
Problem is, it’s just not happening.
“We’re pretty frustrated,” Ryan McDonagh said. “We may think we’re doing some good things out there but it’s not nearly at the consistent level it needs to be in order for us to be a hard team to play against and the team we know we’re capable of being.”
What a start.
This series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals might be headlined by Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, but as many have said in the lead-up to tonight’s opener, there is so much more to this second round matchup than that. Washington’s 4-3 overtime victory in Game 1 tonight could be offered up as Exhibit A.
This game had everything except big offensive showings from Crosby and Ovechkin. They had their moments, but in the end combined for just one assist.
What we got instead was a hat trick by T.J. Oshie that was completed with a game-winning goal that made it past the line by such a narrow margin that it warranted a video review:
This game also featured a sequence of three goals in 90 seconds and yet also some great saves by goaltenders Braden Holtby and Matt Murray. At the other end of the spectrum, there was a controversial hit by Tom Wilson that might lead to a suspension.
There was even some odd stuff. Like how Jay Beagle got a stick stuck in his equipment.
If this game sets the tone for the rest of the series, then we should be in for a closely contested, highlight filled affair.
— Nick Bonino had a goal and an assist for the Penguins. Evgeni Malkin and Ben Lovejoy accounted for the Penguins’ other markers.
— Capitals forward Andre Burakovsky scored the game’s opening goal. It was his first marker of the 2016 playoffs.
— Washington outshot Pittsburgh 15-9 in the first period, but Pittsburgh ended up with a 45-35 edge.
— This is the first time in the 2016 playoffs that Braden Holtby has allowed more than two goals. He surrendered just five goals in six games to Philadelphia.
— Matt Murray suffered his first career postseason loss after winning three straight contests against the New York Rangers.
Tom Wilson has already found himself in a controversy for delivering a late, knee-on-knee hit to Penguins forward Conor Sheary in the third period of Game 1 Thursday night.
You can see that incident below:
Wilson spent two minutes in the sin bin earlier in the contest for crosschecking Evgeni Malkin, but there was no penalty on this play.
Fortunately Conor Sheary was able to stay in the game. The question now is if Wilson’s actions will lead to him being suspended prior to Game 2.
This isn’t Wilson’s first brush with controversy. He delivered a big hit to Brayden Schenn in 2013, but Wilson wasn’t suspended for that incident. Lubomir Visnovsky’s final campaign was cut short due to a check by Wilson that angered the New York Islanders. More recently, Nikita Zadorov was concussed by a crushing blow from the Capitals forward.
In 231 career regular season games, Wilson has 50 points and 486 penalty minutes.
Related: Wilson says ‘I’ve never been a dirty hitter’ after teams voice complaints
For the first 30 minutes of Game 1 between Pittsburgh and Washington it looked like goaltenders Matt Murray and Braden Holtby might outshine these star-studded offenses. Then the floodgates opened up, if only for a moment.
Washington already had a 1-0 lead going into the second frame courtesy of Andre Burakovsky‘s first marker of the 2016 playoffs, but Ben Lovejoy and Evgeni Malkin scored back-to-back goals within the span of 57 seconds midway through the second period to tilt the scale in Pittsburgh’s favor. That lead didn’t last for long though as Capitals forward T.J. Oshie got a breakaway opportunity and took full advantage of it.
In total, there were three goals scored in the span of just 90 seconds and you can see all of them below:
After that sequence, the 2-2 tie held for the remainder of the frame. However, Oshie was able to reassert Washington’s edge just 3:23 minutes into the third period.
Through 40 minutes of action in Game 1 of the second round series between Pittsburgh and Washington and we’ve already seen some big moments, along with a pretty unusual one.
Beagle ended up with a stick lodged into his visor towards the end of the second frame. He tried to get it out himself, but ended up having to go to the bench for assistance. You can see that below: