LOS ANGELES — This wouldn’t have been good enough if Lester Patrick, Emile Francis, Herb Brooks, Mike Keenan, Tom Renney, John Tortorella, Alain Vigneault and David Quinn had locked arms behind the Rangers’ bench and formed an eight-man coaching staff.
Wouldn’t have been good enough, either, for Gerard Gallant so how in the world would this minimalist performance against the hungrier, more dialed-in Kings have been sufficient with Hartford’s Kris Knoblauch filling in for the Blueshirts’ head coach while he is under NHL COVID protocol?
Answer: It was not sufficient, not by a mile.
“We didn’t commit to getting through that 1-3-1 [trap],” Chris Kreider said following Monday’s numbing 3-1 defeat here. “We talked before the game what they do in the neutral zone and we just decided to work hard and not smart.
“We needed to come with speed and support each other but we made it really easy on them walking out of the zone and ultimately trying to get our feet going, but it was too late.”
If the Rangers did work hard, if urgency was attached to their game, it didn’t amount to much at all. Their net-front coverage in their own end critically broke down twice within the first 3:41 of the second period in which the Kings converted a pair of rebounds. When finally able to break the trap, the Blueshirts were kept to the outside in the offensive zone, pinned to the perimeter.
“When we did finally get in, we weren’t doing a good enough job of getting into battles, staying in battles and winning battles,” said Kreider, who had three shots in 20:50. “They did a good job, but we didn’t do nearly a good enough job of establishing the forecheck.”
Knoblauch, who said that he was not nearly as nervous for this one as he was last year when he replaced Quinn for six games in March when the then-head coach was stricken by COVID, is essentially coloring by numbers established by Gallant. So there were no shakeups as this one evolved with the Rangers unable to do much to dent that two-goal LA lead.
Of course, with Barclay Goodrow joining Julien Gauthier, Ryan Reaves and Igor Shesterkin on the restricted list, there were not all that many options for the coach. Alexis Lafreniere was up on the right side of the second unit with Ryan Strome and a returning Artemi Panarin, anyway.
The Pack Line with Morgan Barron between Jonny Brodzinski and Tim Gettinger did not create the same type of impact the unit had on Saturday in Anaheim, so the Rangers went with a more heavy three-line rotation that included a third unit with Kevin Rooney centering Filip Chytil and Greg McKegg.
The Kings capitalized on blunders to grab their 2-0 lead. After K’Andre Miller lost the puck in the neutral zone to Trevor Moore, No. 79 was then beaten to the net by the winger before failing to mark Phillip Danault as the center drove to the net to put home a rebound left by Alexandar Georgiev at 0:55 of the second period.
Under three minutes later, third-pair partners Patrik Nemeth and Jarred Tinordi both chased Moore to the right side of the net and below it as he took a bad angle shot from the right flat. The puck glanced off Georgiev into the slot, where it was buried by Blake Lizotte — surrounded by three white shirts — at 3:41 for the 2-0 lead.
The dearth of depth was not the story in this one. The issues were with the marquee guys who were unable to generate either at five-on-five or on the power play. Much like at even strength, the Rangers were kept to the outside, where they passed the puck around the edges to no great effect.
“I think we needed to have more of a shooting mentality,” said Mika Zibanejad, whose eighth goal in nine games brought the Blueshirts within 2-1 at 11:27 of the third on a redirect of a Filip Chytil feed. “It wasn’t clicking today. That’s obviously on us.
“We know we have a lot more and a lot better than that.”
Last year, the Rangers were listing at 11-12-4 when Knoblauch stepped in and guided the club to a 4-2 record in Quinn’s absence. Now, he is taking over a team that entered Monday at 23-9-4.
“Things have been going very well for the Rangers and obviously Turk has been doing a heck of a job,” Knoblauch said in using Gallant’s commonly applied nickname. “I don’t want to disrupt that at all.”
His next chance at not doing that comes Thursday at San Jose.