NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Updated: Sunday, December 13, 2015, 1:39 AM
The Flames celebrate one of their five goals scored on Rangers backup goalie Antti Raanta.
CALGARY – The Rangers’ Up in Flames Tour of Western Canada appropriately concluded in Calgary, winless, with a more structured Saturday night start that deteriorated into more of their now-characteristic chaos in a 5-4 overtime loss at Scotiabank Saddledome.
And the Blueshirts (18-9-4, 40 points) are fed up.
“Right now I feel like sh-t,” leading scorer Mats Zuccarello said. “We don’t help each other out right now. Too soft. There are some bounces happening, but we can’t have excuses anymore. We’ve lost too many games here. This is not good. The whole team. We’ve got to look ourselves in the mirror here. We can talk, but I think everyone in here knows this is not good enough at all.”
The Rangers held a 1-0 lead thanks to J.T. Miller’s fifth goal of the year and a few major early saves by backup goalie Antti Raanta in his seventh start of the season. They also made a strong late push as Tanner Glass, Dan Boyle and Zuccarello scored three unanswered goals to erase a 4-1 Flames lead in the third and force OT.
But up 1-0 in the second, an unforgiveable Keith Yandle defensive-zone turnover let Flames leading scorer Johnny Gaudreau tie it at 17:41 of the second. Calgary forward Mason Raymond scored 17 seconds later on a two-on-one rush off a Dan Girardi giveaway, and that’s what caused Alain Vigneault’s team to collapse again.
They fell to 0-2-1 during their weeklong swing through Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary, being outscored by a total of 14-to-10.
Lundqvist and Raanta early-season had bailed out their teammates for a 16-3-2 record by Nov. 23 through the Rangers’ first 21 games. But in the last 10, the Blueshirts have slid to a 2-6-2 record as their poor puck management and decision-making, particularly by their defense, has caught up with them.
On Saturday, the Rangers therefore barely held second place in the Metropolitan Division ahead of the rival Islanders (17-8-5, 39 points), who were just 10-8-3 back on Nov. 22. Plus, John Hynes’ impressive New Jersey Devils (15-10-4, 34 points) are lurking, and even the Pittsburgh Penguins (15-10-3, 33 points), who fired coach Mike Johnston on Saturday, sit just six points behind.
Captain Ryan McDonagh was much improved from his and Girardi’s disastrous evening in Edmonton, but Girardi deteriorated after a more responsible start.
Yandle became the second defenseman in NHL history to skate in at least 500 consecutive games, in his 500th consecutive appearance through his days with the Coyotes and now the Rangers. But his turnover was similar to his cough-up an Alex Killorn goal in a 2-1 loss in Tampa on Nov. 19.
“Every night seems to have been different,” coach Alain Vigneault said pre-game, admitting basically that his team breaks down in myriad ways, a scary but true admission. “I mean the amount of turnovers that we’ve had on certain nights and from our back end have been very high. So when you have one of those short turnovers, it’s tough to defend against. I mean, nobody’s expecting that puck to get turned over and the other team gets a bang-bang play.
Raanta stops the Flames’ Matt Stajan on a break-in in the game’s opening minute, but he can’t save his teammates from all of their errors in defeat.
“That’s got nothing to do with how you play when you don’t have the puck,” the coach continued. “It’s a turnover and you’ve gotta limit those. You’re gonna make some, but you’ve gotta limit those. And there’s no doubt though that on certain occasions, when we’re not first on our puck in our end, we need to do a better job of protecting the front of our net. And last night there were a couple of occasions where there were clear-cut poor decisions (by) forwards and D’s and led to great opportunities on their part.”
Gaudreau (two goals, one assist) and the Flames (13-14-2, 28 points) handed Raanta (22 saves) his second straight loss, after also taking the defeat in Edmonton when he replaced Lundqvist, who was pulled in the third.
At first the Rangers looked faster with slumping veteran forward Jarret Stoll a healthy scratch for the second time all season, but their year-long problems with the puck persisted.
The Rangers desperately need to get back defensively-reliable center Derek Stepan (broken ribs, Nov. 27), who is expected to be out until after Christmas, and defenseman Kevin Klein (strained oblique, Nov. 30), who is due back within the next 10 days. Vigneault at least had good news on Stepan and Klein on Saturday night.
“What I’ve heard from back home is that they are both, Step and Kevin, skating at this time,” Vigneault said. “They started I want to say yesterday (Friday) or the day before (Thursday). What that means for timeframe I don’t know. I just think they’re skating on their own. Everything’s moving forward and we’ll know when we get back.”
It’s tough these days, though, to see any good in the Rangers’ game.
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