Monday was a cold and snowy day all across New York, and once it came time for puck drop at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers couldn't find traction until it was too late.
Vegas' Alex Tuch scored twice within the game's first four minutes, and despite a slew of their own scoring chances the remainder of the evening, the Rangers were unable to dig out from the snowbank of their start in a 4-1 loss to the Golden Knights on Monday night at the Garden.
The loss snapped the Rangers' Garden winning streak at four games, and their points streak on home ice at six (5-0-1). The Rangers hadn't lost in regulation on Garden ice in a month, while Vegas has now won three in a row for the first time this season.
Brendan Lemieux scored the Rangers' goal 15:15 into the middle period, Lemieux's third goal in six games, off a bullseye setup from Jacob Trouba. The goal made the score 4-1 and, given the time remaining and the Rangers' recent history, Brady Skjei said, "We believed on the bench we could get back into it -- we did it not too long ago in Montreal, so there was no doubt in our game. And we were creating chances. We just didn't put them in the back of the net."
To that end, Malcolm Subban -- who has filled in admirably for Vegas while Marc-Andre Fleury has stepped away to mourn the passing of his father in Quebec last week -- made 29 saves in his first career game against the Blueshirts, and the Rangers finished the game with 71 shot attempts - the Golden Knights blocked 21 shots, and 20 other attempts missed the target.
And just two days after a special-teams domination in Newark on Saturday afternoon, the Rangers drew plenty of penalties in this one but found themselves 0-for-6 on power plays once the final horn sounded (though two of them were truncated at the end of the game). Subban, who won for the third straight time after an 0-4-2 start, stopped all nine power-play shots he saw.
Still, it was the start of the game, and one moment at the start of the second period, that the Rangers were left regretting. David Quinn did not point out the fact that his team was playing its eighth game in a 13-day span. But he did say, "We looked sluggish right from the get-go."
And Tuch was a terror at the start. His first goal came 1:34 in after Henrik Lundqvist had gotten enough of his shot that the puck died on the goal line, but was knocked in during the goaltender's scramble to secure it. Tuch then drew a penalty when his stick was held as he drove the middle, and cashed in the power play himself with a tap-in at 3:50.
"The one thing I did like," Quinn said, "I thought after the 11-minute mark we played pretty good the second half of the first period -- we had some chances to get back in. And I thought we started the second period well, and then just gave them a gift."
That moment came after the four-minute mark of the second, and just a half-minute after Chris Kreider had put a dart from the left wing off iron behind Subban. Pressing to get back in the game, the Rangers pressed a little too much, and Reilly Smith's steal just inside the Vegas line wound up trapping all five of them in the zone; Smith had a long skate toward Lundqvist to think about his move, and he scored his team-leading 12th goal with a backhander, unassisted.
"Yeah, that's the one that bothers me, the breakaway there," said Lundqvist, who was starting for the seventh time in the Rangers' last nine games and made 28 saves. "Of all the goals that was probably the one I felt like I had the biggest chance to stop. He made a good move, but at the same time as a goalie, 1-on-1, you want to come up with the save."
Given how the Rangers had seemed to iron out their start, and at the time were threatening Subban's net, "That really changed the momentum of the game," Quinn said.
Max Pacioretty stretched it to 4-0 on a power play 1:36 later, one-timing Cody Glass' spinning feed across the top of the crease. Lemieux then got one back 4:45 before second intermission - after he and Jesper Fast dug a puck out of the left corner and Mika Zibanejad worked it around to Trouba on the right, Lemieux went straight for the slot and called for the puck, setting the target that Trouba hit for a redirection up and over Subban. It was Lemieux's fourth goal of the season and Trouba's fourth assist in the last three games.
But it wasn't enough to erase what came before. Quinn said the Rangers played a game that was "way too risk-oriented," and Kreider added: "We get down, it seems like we want to win the game on every single play, rather than crawling right back in by making the simple play right in front of us. It's something we've got to buy into, because that's going to happen - teams are going to get an early goal, you're not going to lead every single game."
Turns out that's true, even though the Rangers had scored to take the first lead in each of their previous four games, and in 11 of their prior 15. Monday's loss was against the grain in more than one respect for a Ranger team that had won four straight at home and was 10-4-2 in the 16 games preceding it.
Now, though, on Tuesday and Wednesday, they will have consecutive days in between games for the first time since Nov. 18 and 19. It will give them more than a quick breath in preparation for their fifth back-to-back set of the season, in Columbus on Thursday, followed back at the Garden on Friday in their first game against Montreal since their Bell Centre comeback two Saturdays ago.
"There's definitely things we can take from this and we can learn from," Skjei said. "We've got a couple days here, then right back at it. We'll move past this and go and focus on Columbus."