Two hits to the head on two non-calls. And two players lost to potentially severe injuries.
Regardless of the outcome of the score, one thing is clear. The Rangers are losing games and losing players along the way.
Against Nashville the Blueshirts came out flat; a habitual occurrence lately.
And while the Predators failed to score in the opening period, it never felt like the Rangers were in this game.
A big reason for that was a very simple fact. If not for the stellar play of Henrik Lundqvist, the score would have easily been 4-0 after one.
And while Lundqvist managed to bail out his team in the first period, he could not repeat the trick the rest of the way.
19 seconds into the second period, P.K. Subban wound up for his patented big slap shot; blasting the puck past Lundqvist for the 1-0 lead.
From there the game turned ugly.
A clearly errant elbow from Alexei Emelin caught Marc Staal in the head; immediately sending the Rangers’ defenseman to the locker room and ending his night.
If the loss of Staal wasn’t bad enough, the referees neglected to penalize Emelin for his dirty hit. And that paved the way for what happened next.
A scuffle near the benches saw Ryan Johansen punch Jimmy Vesey square in the mouth. Vesey was bloodied and sent to the locker room for some stitches.
While Vesey initially returned to the game after a few minutes, NHL concussion spotters pulled him from the game; thus ending his night as well.
With the Rangers down two players in the game and Nashville playing loose with the rules it was no wonder that multiple fights broke out.
Johansen then bullied Ryan McDonagh and squashed the Blueshirts’ captain like a bug. Brady Skjei jumped in to confront Johansen and promptly got dropped by the Predators’ center.
Then, adding insult to injury, Kevin Fiala scored with 2:26 remaining in the middle period; giving the home team a 2-0 lead.
An even crazier third period soon followed.
21 seconds into the final period, with the Rangers on the power-play, J.T. Miller artfully redirected a Mats Zuccarello shot past Pekka Rinne; cutting Nashville’s lead to 2-1.
But the Predators weren’t willing to let the visitors back into the game.
Colton Sissons scored two minutes later; re-establishing Nashville’s two-goal lead.
With the Blueshirts out of sorts it looked like the 3-1 score would be the final.
But an emotional Rangers’ team showed a small spark of life when Mika Zibanejad blasted a one-timer past Rinne on the power-play; cutting the Predators’ lead to 3-2.
Sadly, Viktor Arvidsson scored 16 seconds later; wrestling back control of the game.
A rare power-play empty-net goal by Fiala was the final nail in the Blueshirts’ coffin.
The Predators won 5-2, but the score isn’t indicative of how one-sided the game really was.
Yes the three-goal margin of victory suggests the Predators won the game handily. But in reality, it felt like it should have been 10-2.
BLUESHIRT BULLET POINTS
POWER-PLAY: The Rangers went two-for-three on the man advantage. It was the only time the offense showed signs of life. And the two power-play tallies give the Blueshirts 10 such goals in their last 37 power-play opportunities (27%).
INJURIES: Marc Staal and Jimmy Vesey left the game in the second period with head injuries. And they are likely joining Pavel Buchnevich in the NHL’s concussion protocol. With Chris Kreider and Kevin Shattenkirk still sidelined indefinitely that’s five key components of the Rangers’ lineup that are missing.
NOTABLE ACHIEVEMENTS: Mats Zuccarello’s assist on Miller’s power-play goal was the 300th of his NHL career. Joining Zuccarello in the notable achievements department are Miller (1G, 1A) and McDonagh (2A); both tallied two power-play points.
The Rangers face Jamie Benn and the Stars Monday (Feb. 5) at American Airlines Arena. Game time: 8:30 p.m. ET. Broadcast: MSG Networks.
As Head Coach Alain Vigneault said after the game, “it’s very hard to figure certain things game-to-game.”
Vigneault was talking about the referees not calling penalties on the dirty hits that have sent three of his top players into the NHL’s concussion protocol.
On top of that, the Rangers have another game to play in 48 hours. And this team looks lost in a fog right now.
Hopefully, whoever the Blueshirts call up on Sunday can provide some much needed CPR to the team’s playoff aspirations.