The Rangers were looking for improvement on Tuesday night, and they found it in their best game of this Western road trip. But facing the defending Western Conference champs, a team that has yet to lose in 2019, that was enough to come up just short.
Wrapping up a three-game trip in the desert, the Rangers fell to the Golden Knights, 4-2, on Tuesday night in Las Vegas. They headed back home emptyhanded on the road trip and with their first four-game losing streak of the season, but also with a sense that Tuesday's performance at least was a step toward climbing out of it.
"We did a lot of better things tonight, but it's tough sledding right now," Chris Kreider said. "You knew that was going to happen before it got better. But we did a lot of things well tonight as opposed to the last few games. That's the only way that you can turn this thing around is with hard work and committing to the details and committing to doing the small things that win hockey games.
"So it was definitely better tonight, and it's coming."
The Rangers now are coming home for a rivalry match at the Garden on Thursday night, touching off a home-and-home set with the Islanders and beginning a stretch of four straight games within the Metropolitan Division.
Cody Eakin, Brandon Pirri and Jonathan Marchessault each scored for the Golden Knights on Tuesday, and Marc-Andre Fleury made 27 saves for his league-leading 25th victory of the season as Vegas extended its winning streak to seven games and its points streak to 10 (8-0-2).
Trailing by three goals following an evenly played opening 40 minutes, the Rangers - playing without Kevin Hayes (upper body) for the third straight game - came close to putting together a rally in the third, climbing back to striking distance on Mika Zibanejad's 12th of the season just past the midpoint of a period in which the Blueshirts would outshoot their hosts 14-7. But Ryan Carpenter put the game out of reach by scoring into an empty net, before Jesper Fast scored his sixth of the season for the Blueshirts.
Video: NYR@VGK: Zibanejad finishes off great passing play
Alexandar Georgiev, who started the opener and the finale of the Rangers' three-game Western swing and appeared in all three, made 27 saves in this one and 76 on the road trip. Two of the three goals Vegas scored on him came on breakaways, the other on a power play.
Most of any of them, the harshest blow to the Rangers was Marchessault's score late in the second period. It came just moments after Cody McLeod had a pair of splendid chances to halve the deficit on the same shift, set up by each of his linemates. First he drove the net for Pavel Buchnevich to fire one off his tape that couldn't find Fleury's five-hole, then he walked in alone off of Boo Nieves' tap pass around Deryk Engelland, but a flopping Fleury managed to keep that one out too.
Only a half-minute after that, Marc Staal's deflected shot off the backboards caromed 125 feet out to the Rangers' blue line and into Marchessault's path for a breakaway, and he flicked one up top on Georgiev for his 14th goal just 1:07 before the period was out.
It was a two-goal swing and gave a three-goal cushion to a team that is now 18-0-2 when leading after 40 minutes.
But as Brady Skjei said, "I thought we kept playing," and Kreider said it might have been Henrik Lundqvist who was making use of a ketchup metaphor in between periods. "You hit the ketchup bottle over and over again, it comes out all at once if you just keep hitting it over and over," said Kreider, whose assist was his ninth point in the last nine games. "That's a good analogy."
They scored a pretty good goal with 8:17 to play when Zibanejad finished off passing play with his linemates. First Mats Zuccarello, moved onto that line for the third, handled Kreider's pass in his skates at the right circle, then he sent one back across the netmouth for Zibanejad, who went to one knee to tee it up with his skate and stuffed it into the open side.
Zibanejad has scored a goal in each of the Rangers' four games against the Golden Knights since Vegas entered the league.
Along with the back-to-back stops on McLeod, Fleury's biggest save of the night came with the clock ticking under 3½ minutes, when Tony DeAngelo took Fast's pass in space at the right circle, only to see the goaltender snare his rising wrister with the catching glove.
Quinn brought Georgiev to the bench with 2½ minutes left, but Carpenter's hit the empty net with 1:20 to play. Fast supplied the final score line 23 seconds from the end when the rebound of Jimmy Vesey's shot popped out to him in the slot.
Video: NYR@VGK: Fast pots goal late in the 3rd
Quinn said that unlike his team's recent games, even when something went wrong in this one "We had much more of a take-charge attitude - there was no feeling sorry for ourselves. We had much more of the approach we're going to need if we're going to have success."
Eakin's opening goal came on a breakaway 16:02 into the game, and the Knights had a 1-0 lead and a 13-5 shots advantage after a first period in which the Rangers felt they were the better team. "That wasn't indicative of the way the period went - they just took shots when they could and we passed up three or four glaring chances to shoot a puck, and off of that comes more shots," Quinn said. "We've just got to shoot more pucks."
Pirri made it 2-0 on a power play 7:06 into the second - his seventh goal in eight games with Vegas this season - poking in a sitting puck in the crease after Georgiev had gotten enough of Max Pacioretty's one-timer to send it off the post. Then came Marchessault's unassisted dagger at 18:53.
"We've got to build on it," Quinn said of his team's performance. "We're going to get home tonight, we've got to rest up, and quick turnaround Thursday night against the Islanders."
"End of the day, that's two points we didn't get, and that's frustrating. We've got to get on the plane and head home and really focus on this next game coming up," said Skjei. "We need to get some points here coming up, and it starts on Thursday."