The Rangers once again dug themselves into a hole they could not climb out from and things continued to get ugly for them.
It took just 1:03 for the Rangers to fall behind the Senators on Saturday and things only got worse from there as Henrik Lundqvist was pulled for the second time in six games and the Blueshirts dropped their third straight with a 6-3 road loss to Ottawa.
It was the second straight game the Rangers (27-27-5) allowed a goal within the first five minutes and the 23rd goal they have allowed in the first two minutes of a period this season.
“Definitely not the start we’re looking for,” Lundqvist said after the game. “Taking care of the middle of the ice, that’s the key. We start the game by giving them right in the slot there and it’s just a hill to climb after that.”
The Senators (21-27-9) took the early lead on their first shot on goal of the game, which was set up by former Ranger Derick Brassard, who had a goal and two assists on Saturday.
Brassard took the puck behind the net and found teammate Mark Stone in the middle of the ice. Stone fired the puck past Lundqvist and the Rangers were left playing catch up from there.
“Every game coming in (we’re) looking for a good start,” said defenseman Brady Skjei. “The last two games have early goals to start the games off, so we just have to focus on that first shift next game.”
Skjei added the defensive zone needed to play better but Lundqvist, who allowed five goals on 27 shots, admitted some of the blame also falls on him.
“You can look at the goalie and say he needs to make some more saves,” Lundqvist said. “I see a couple plays I could have done better. I have stretches every year I feel like I can play better, looking for a better feeling. I feel like I’m tracking the puck pretty good, but clearly not enough. Giving up too many goals. Not enough right now. … It’s challenging. No question about that.”
Lundqvist was originally planned to have the day off but was given the nod after backup goalie Alexander Georgiev had the flu. The veteran netminder saved just 22 of 27 shots on net before being yanked by head coach Alain Vigneault with the Rangers trailing 5-2.
“The schedule been rather challenging lately,” Vigneault said. “Down by three at that point, we’re saving him for (Sunday vs. Philadelphia).”
Lundqvist, though, said he was surprised by Vigneault’s decision.
“Yeah, I want to play,” he said.
Rookie Brandon Halverson, who was called up from AHL Hartford after Georgiev came down with the flu, made his NHL debut replacing Lundqvist, saving five of six shots.
The Rangers are now 2-3 since ownership declared their plan to rebuild last week and have lost eight of their last 11 and sit five points behind the Islanders for the second wild card.
The plan is to trade away some of the veterans by the Feb. 26 trade deadline and Michael Grabner certainly showcased some his value by scoring his 24th and 25th goals of the season.
Mika Zibanejad scored the Rangers’ other goal on a power play and Pavel Buchnevich, who has not played since Feb. 1 due to a concussion, recorded an assist in his first game back.