The Rangers have stumbled out of the holiday break.
In a game where both teams needed to shake off the rust from the Christmas layoff, the Blueshirts were shut out for just the second time this season in a 4-0 loss to the Capitals on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. Puck bounces and penalty calls may not have gone their way, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if the Rangers don’t score.
This was one of those games in which the referees’ presence was felt. One phantom call after the next, followed by one missed call after the next. Zero consistency and zero precedent, however, are the ways of NHL officiating. This is nothing new. It just happened to have a notable impact on Tuesday’s matchup.
A slashing penalty was called on one of the Rangers’ top penalty killers, Ryan Lindgren, in the first period on a play the defenseman wasn’t even near. Chris Kreider’s soft takedown of Alex Ovechkin 21 seconds later probably had more to do with the Capitals star than it did Kreider.
Still, Washington made the five-on-three advantage count and pulled ahead 1-0 at 8:44 of the opening frame.
Then there was Erik Gustafsson slashing Julien Gauthier’s stick and skates, causing the Rangers forward to fall to his knees on his move to the net in the second period. No call was made, but the play did briefly go under review to ensure the puck didn’t cross the goal line at any point.
The most egregious officiating blunder of the evening was certainly on the Capitals’ second goal, which the Rangers challenged for goalie interference. Washington had the numbers in the offensive zone and Gustafsson buried the puck on a rebound while Conor Sheary clearly skated into the blue paint and made contact with Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin’s pad.
Ref Michael Markovic skated to the center of the ice and proclaimed there was no contact.
Nevertheless, the Rangers didn’t do themselves any favors, either.
When Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov was called for tripping Mika Zibanejad 32 seconds into the middle frame, which was barely a trip, the Rangers couldn’t capitalize despite three shots on goal. Washington later made it 3-0 after Lars Eller skated right down the middle of the ice among four Rangers skaters and went completely untouched.
The Capitals, who were without T.J. Oshie (lower-body injury and John Carlson (upper-body injury), won the special teams battle, whether the power plays were warranted or not. Despite Lindgren and Kreider pushing back on the slashing and holding calls that were called on them in the first period, respectively, Washington still capitalized all the same with the two-man advantage.
Jacob Trouba fumbled the puck and it took an unfortunate bounce right toward the goal line. Capitals forward Marcus Johansson finished it off for the 1-0 lead.
On the other hand, the Rangers went scoreless on the five power-play chances. Three of those stretches with the man-advantage came in the final 20 minutes, one of which after the Rangers pulled Shesterkin for the six-on-four edge. On that one, Sheary sent the puck the length of the ice into the empty net for the shorthanded tally.
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