OTTAWA -- The Rangers had their game going North, in more ways than one, and were feeling good and confident about where they stood when they crossed into Canada for the weekend. But those good feelings did not survive the first minute of Friday night's game in the Canadian capital, leaving the Rangers, right out of the gate, chasing a game they could never get ahold of.
The Blueshirts opened a two-game, two-night trip North of the border with a 4-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Centre, closing out their 2019-20 season series with the Sens in frustrating fashion. The Senators, who entered the game one of the hotter teams in hockey, jumped in front 57 seconds into the game and held the lead for the final 59:03.
But the letdown felt more pronounced to the Blueshirts given how they had competed, and how they had won, just 48 hours before, in a complete team victory over the NHL-leading Capitals at Madison Square Garden. Through 20 games this season, the Blueshirts have taken several leaps forward like Wednesday's, but have been left flummoxed when too often the next step is back.
"We've got bad short-term memories when it comes to the success we've been having," Chris Kreider said. "I feel like I'm a broken record at this point because I talk about it after every win, and then again after every loss following a good win. We have a formula, and we buy in one game, we get away from it the next."
"At the end of the day, that's the trend for us: When we start feeling good about ourselves, we don't do a really good job of handling it," said David Quinn. "This is as disappointing as it's been, because I thought we were actually going in the right direction and building off a couple of real good games for us. But back to square one."
Jacob Trouba scored a late first-period goal for the Blueshirts, on assists from Ryan Lindgren, the rookie's third assist in four games, and Tim Gettinger, who picked up his first point in the NHL in his sixth career game. By that time, though, Thomas Chabot had provided the opening-minute lead for the home side, and Logan Brown had doubled the edge with his first NHL goal, shooting from virtually the same spot in the left circle, to put the Sens up a pair after just 6:32 had been played. Brown's goal was one of two scored by Ottawa's power play.
The Rangers were held under two goals for only the second time this season, and the first since Edmonton did it in game No. 3 back on Oct. 12.
At the other end, Henrik Lundqvist, starting for the third straight game, made 35 saves but will have to wait another day to pass Curtis Joseph and take fifth place on the all-time wins list all to himself. Lundqvist will back up Alexandar Georgiev on Saturday night at the Bell Centre.
"I think it's part of understanding that you don't change your game," Lundqvist said. "You have one way to play. One way to win in this league. We show it, and then we get away from it, and then we come back to it. Until we play that type of attention-to-detail game, it's going to be up and down."
It still has been more up than down, even since Mika Zibanejad left the lineup with an upper-body injury that has cost him nearly a month now. The Blueshirts are 6-4-1 without their No. 1 center, and will play their 12th straight game without him on Saturday night in Montreal to complete this back-to-back. They remain hopeful that when they return to New York for Garden games on Monday and Wednesday, Zibanejad will be zeroing in on a return.
In the meantime, Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome have been instrumental in picking up the slack left by his absence, but on Friday night the Senators managed to keep the puck away from Panarin enough to halt his career-long point streak at 12 games, and by the middle of this game Panarin and Strome had been split as Quinn threw his lines and pairs into the blender.
Panarin's streak was the longest active one in the NHL going into the game; he was held scoreless for the first time in exactly a month, since the Oct. 22 game against Arizona, and for just the fourth time all season.
The Senators, left by many for dead after starting the season 1-6-1, won their third straight game and for the seventh time in their last nine games. They received 30 saves from Anders Nilsson and a pair of assists from Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who along with Panarin has been one of the League's hottest scorers for the past month. Pageau entered the game with 10 goals in his previous 10 games, tied with Connor McDavid for the League lead in November, but zero assists in that span.
"They work hard, and that's why they've been winning," Lundqvist said of the Sens.
They were in front 2-0 with time getting short in the first period, when Quinn put his fourth line out for an offensive-zone draw and Greg McKegg won the faceoff. Lindgren worked a saucer pass across the blue line to Trouba, and the big blueliner's wrist shot was such a dipping, knuckling handful that it ate Nilsson alive and skipped over his stickblade for Trouba's second of the year, sending the Rangers into first intermission trailing by just one.
But Tyler Ennis erased the gains on a drive to the net 1:11 into the second, and after a string of Ranger penalties, Anthony Duclair stepped into a one-timer during a 5-on-3, the ex-Ranger's 10th of the year coming at 13:24 of the second and setting the final margin.
But it is not the final word on this road trip, and the Rangers moved on to Montreal after the game with a chance to recapture those good feelings - something they have been able to do before this season - less than 24 hours away.
"The good news is, we've responded well to games like this, but they've happened too often," Quinn said. "So hopefully we can follow the trend where, when we don't play well, we come back and put forth a much better effort."