There was an ever-present sloppiness to the Rangers’ play on Monday night that no amount of grit or grind could overcome.
Maybe it was the fact that the Blueshirts have competed in seven games in 12 days, which included a four-game road trip, but the result was a disheveled 5-1 loss to the Flames in front of 13,590 fans at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers, whose four-game winning streak came to a screeching halt, didn’t want to use their strenuous schedule as a copout — though it helped soften the reality of how ugly this loss truly was.
“I don’t like making excuses, but I sure hope so,” head coach Gerard Gallant quipped when asked if fatigue played a role in the Rangers’ play.
The Rangers were extremely sloppy with the puck for a majority of the game, registering 20 giveaways compared to the Flames’ six. Particularly in the first period, the Rangers were careless in the defensive zone, which translated into poor play in the neutral zone — and it was a habit they couldn’t break all night.
When Jacob Trouba and Brett Ritchie earned matching roughing penalties to ignite four-on-four play in the first period, the Flames struck first. Calgary defenseman Christopher Tanev found the back of the net at 18:50 off a Flames three-on-two rush.
Continuing to commit turnovers, the Rangers were telegraphing their passes and mishandling puck after puck. An errant pass from Patrik Nemeth went right to the Flames’ Andrew Mangiapane, who swept the puck back in for the 2-0 score at 2:09 of the second period.
“I think it’s more just puck management,” said Ryan Strome, who returned to the lineup for the first time in four games after a bout with COVID-19. “When we had chances tonight, we were simple, we were straight lines, kind of what you’ve seen the last little while. A template of what makes us successful. Then we’re throwing pucks in the middle a little bit, I think a little bit sloppy and not our best execution.”
Gallant had to roll with 11 forwards and five defensemen early on, after fourth-line winger Ryan Reaves and first-pairing defenseman Ryan Lindgren went to the locker room with injuries in the first period. Lindgren returned to the bench with 3:50 left in the period, but sat out for the remainder of the opening frame before getting back on the ice in the second period.
Reaves rejoined the Rangers at the start of the middle frame, though the veteran enforcer sat at the end of the bench next to backup goalie Alexandar Georgiev and didn’t play for the remainder of the game.
The Rangers avoided the shutout when Dryden Hunt scored his first goal with the club at 5:25 of the second, but the Flames answered quickly and took the air out of the Garden. Calgary’s Blake Coleman retrieved his own rebound and backhanded it past Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin to put the Flames up 3-1. Mikael Backlund and Mangiapane rounded out the scoring on the night.
In an attempt to jump-start the offense, Gallant elevated Julien Gauthier, who was a healthy scratch the previous two games, up to the top line next to Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider in place of Alexis Lafreniere.
“I thought about it before the game, to be honest, just different line combinations,” the coach said. “Gauthier played really well. He made a few mistakes, but I thought he banged the body, he skated, he made some really good plays. I just wanted to change things up a little bit.”
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