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The Rangers have no answers against the Capitals Sunday night at the Garden.
Expect Alain Vigneault’s rotating wheel of healthy scratches to keep spinning until the Rangers stop spiraling.
Sunday night, veteran center Dominic Moore was the latest Blueshirt to watch his teammates from the luxury boxes, but Benoit Pouliot’s return was not designed to be the difference, and it wasn’t, in a 4-1 loss to the division-rival Washington Capitals at the Garden.
Pouliot did score with 1:53 remaining to prevent a shutout, but his failed clear of the puck resulted in the Capitals’ second of two goals within 25 seconds of each other early in the second period, a point shot through a screen by Washington defenseman Steve Oleksy.
Washington had opened the scoring 2:28 into the second on Jason Chimera’s gritty goal in front after Rangers defenseman John Moore had been shoved off the puck behind the net by Caps forward Martin Erat.
Howard Simmons/New York Daily News
Henrik Lundqvist gets beat at goal four times as the Rangers lose their second straight game.
Moore already has been a healthy scratch for two games recently. Michael Del Zotto (assist), who replaced the injured Marc Staal Sunday night, has been in and out of the doghouse. J.T. Miller already has found his way back there in just his second game since another AHL call-up, playing only two second-period shifts.
Vigneault is searching for answers, but he is struggling to find them, including in Sunday’s third period when he put his forward lines in a blender to no avail, his club struggling to generate anything on the second night of back-to-back.
The Rangers (15-15-1) fell to 5-7-1 at the Garden and dropped to 1-13-0 when their opponent scores first. They also have lost three times in the last 11 games when they score the first goal themselves. They are just 5-4-1 against Metropolitan Division opponents, following Sunday’s loss to Washington (16-12-2) and Saturday night’s 4-3 overtime defeat to the Devils.
Their franchise-record nine-game homestand continues Tuesday night against the Nashville Predators.
It’s not that there are no positives; there just aren’t enough. At least in Sunday night’s second period, Rangers right wing Rick Nash stood up to Washington captain Alex Ovechkin and exchanged gloves-on punches to the face, responding to an Ovechkin hit earlier in the shift.
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Jason Chimera gives the Capitals a lead they won’t relinquish early in the 2nd period.
Calls aren’t going the Rangers’ way. After Saturday night’s Cam Janssen puck-off-the-skate goal was upheld – much to the frustration of the Garden fans – Caps forward Mikhail Grabovski was awarded a penalty shot 18:26 into the second period for Ryan McDonagh’s stick work from behind on a breakaway after McDonagh’s offensive zone turnover.
Grabovski slowed between the circles and blasted a slap shot high-glove on Henrik Lundqvist, who felt to 9-12-1 this season and 1-1-1 since signing his monster contract extension on Wednesday. Instead, it was Capitals rookie goalie Phillipp Grubauer, 22, getting his first career win in just his second career start.
The Rangers have plenty of time to right the ship and make the playoffs in a weak division, but there was insult on top of injury on Sunday. Staal, 26, the top-four defenseman and alternate captain, is being treated for “neck issues” and is experiencing “some symptoms,” Vigneault said pregame, after taking a shoulder to the chin from Devils forward Reid Boucher 6:41 into Saturday night’s third period at the Garden.
Vigneault said the Rangers are not sure yet whether the defenseman’s symptoms are concussion-related, but even if they are not, that is not automatically good news. Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby played only eight games between Jan. 5, 2011, and March 15, 2012, due not only to two likely concussions but also because of concussion-like symptoms caused by a soft-tissue neck injury that was not diagnosed until Jan. 2012.
Staal has a history of head injuries himself, as well, including a Feb. 2011 concussion and a career-threatening eye injury last spring.
“Obviously with his history, we’re taking every precaution,” Vigneault said. “We’ll probably know more in the next day or two.”