Ottawa Senators forward Chris Kelly snapped the team’s 202-minute scoreless drought and scored a hat trick in the team’s 3-1 win over the New York Rangers Sunday evening at Madison Square Garden. The win broke the Senators’ three-game losing streak and was a nice break for a team that has been struggling of late.
The Senators started strong as they dominated the majority of the first period. Although the results didn’t show up in the first 20 minutes, the Senators derailed the Blueshirts so much in the first four minutes that Rangers’ head coach John Tortorella called a timeout in order to gain some balance.
But Tortorella’s strategy didn’t do any good as the Rangers still couldn’t get their game together. They continued to turn the puck over in the neutral zone, had no luck getting the puck into the offensive zone and only fired five shots toward Sens goaltender Pascal Leclaire in the first 20 minutes.
“We didn’t play as well as we had to in the first period,” said Rangers’ defenseman Dan Girardi. “We have to have a better start and be more ready and simplify our game.”
The Rangers picked up their game in the second period and gained an early power play opportunity 3:21 into the period. But the opportunity didn’t work in their favor after Derek Stepan mishandled the puck in the offensive zone and allowed Kelly to break away down the left side and get off a wrist shot that soared past goaltender Henrik Lundqvist for a short-handed goal.
Although it was Stepan who couldn’t handle the puck, Rangers scoring powerhouse Marian Gaborik, took complete responsibility for the goal.
“I have to make a better play to Step there,” said Gaborik. “I bounced it to him and there’s not much he can do there. I should have made [the puck] flat for him.”
Later in the period, the Rangers answered with a shorthanded goal of their own after the Senators gained a power play opportunity when Ruslan Fedotenko was called for high sticking. Brian Boyle glided a pass to Brandon Prust who beat Leclaire with a wrist shot from the left circle on a 2-on-1 break with defenseman Marc Staal.
Tied 1-1 in the third period, it was any team’s game and stayed that way until 2:24 left in the period when Kelly took advantage of blown coverage and scored his second goal of the night off of a beautiful behind the net pass from Jarkko Ruutu.
The Rangers continued to have scoring opportunities with an extra skater after they pulled Lundqvist, but could not put the puck between the pipes. Kelly secured the Sens’ victory when he scored an empty netter with eight tenths of a second left.
“You could sense it that when we couldn’t score that second goal that something was going to happen,” explained Tortorella. “So we lose a hockey game, and a very important one, too.”
After the game, the Rangers voiced their frustrations about the loss. And it all boiled down to their lack of intensity in the first period.
“Every night is tough to win in this league so we have to make sure we’re ready from the get-go and have a good start,” Rangers forward Brandon Dubinsky said. “I think it starts from there because the whole momentum builds from that, whether it’s good or bad momentum.”
But what really frustrated Tortorella and the rest of the team is they don’t understand the reason why they started out so slow.
“I can’t put my finger on one reason why we started like that,” said forward Ryan Callahan. “Unfortunately we did, and we can’t have that. We have to learn from it, correct it, and move forward so that it doesn’t happen again.”
“The guys were asleep the first 20 minutes, but I thought we played better in the second and third periods. Why were we asleep? I don’t have any answers for that,” said Tortorella. “It was still a winnable game, and that’s what is so hard about it because as poorly as we started I thought we regrouped and it was still a winnable game, but we couldn’t get it done.”
The Rangers will have a chance at redemption on Thursday night when the play the Senators in Ottawa.