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By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
The Rangers entered calendar year 2009 looking to avenge one of their most difficult losses of 2008. Despite a solid team effort, the Rangers were unable to accomplish that goal as they were defeated 2-1 by the Washington Capitals on Saturday night at the Verizon Center.
Only 11 days ago, the Rangers let a 4-0 lead slip away in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Caps at Madison Square Garden. On Saturday night, they put forth a much better effort against Washington, but ended up dropping their third one-goal decision to the Capitals this season, including a Nov. 8 game that ended with an empty-netter.
Playing for the first time since their 5-4 Garden victory over the Islanders five days ago, the Rangers looked sharp and well-rested. They played a very physical game and were very strong defensively throughout. Unfortunately for the Rangers, the Caps played an extremely stout defensive game themselves.
Sophomore defenseman Marc Staal, in particular, had a standout night for the Rangers. Often on the ice to shut down Washington superstar Alexander Ovechkin, Staal played with a physical edge all evening, even drawing a five-minute major for fighting Alexander Semin early in the third period.
The give-and-take between Staal and Ovechkin was an intriguing part of Saturday evening’s match. While Staal played a sturdy game, Ovechkin still managed a game-high nine shots on goal over 27 minutes worth of ice time, while notching the game-winner late in the second period.
With No. 1 goaltender Henrik Lundqvist sidelined due to a virus, Stephen Valiquette made the start between the pipes for the Rangers, his seventh of the season. Valiquette turned in a solid 29-save performance for New York, albeit in a losing effort.
Jose Theodore stopped 21 of the 22 shots he faced to help the Caps win their sixth straight contest. Washington, which has also won 11 of its last 12, has 55 points, the most over 40 games in franchise history.
The first half of the game featured both clubs playing excellent team defense. And as a result, the contest was scoreless for the first 30 minutes of action.
However, the next 10 minutes produced three scores, and the Capitals carried a 2-1 lead into the third period, an advantage that would hold up over a scoreless final stanza.
The Rangers opened the scoring at 10:04 of the second period on a beautifully deflected shot by Petr Prucha. After the Rangers gained the offensive zone with the puck, Prucha charged straight towards the Caps net where he deflected Brandon Dubinsky’s shot from right wing past Theodore to give his club a 1-0 lead.
The goal was Prucha’s third of the season and his second in as many games. After being scratched in eight consecutive matches, Prucha returned to the lineup against the Islanders and earned First Star honors while scoring a clutch third period goal for the Blueshirts.
Prucha picked up right where he left off with a strong start to Saturday evening’s match. Even before scoring the game’s first goal, Prucha had drawn a pair of power plays for the Rangers and had the Blueshirts’ best scoring chance early in the second period when he got up after being hooked to the ice and fired a rising shot that required a sterling save by Theodore.
Just 31 seconds after Prucha’s goal, Ryan Callahan was penalized for tripping, and Washington capitalized on the ensuing power play to draw even at 1-1. Semin, back in the lineup following a stint on IR with a back injury, drew two defenders towards him before feathering a perfect pass to teammate Mike Green, who was cutting in from right wing. Green snapped his 10th goal of the season into the cage before Valiquette could move across the crease, and the game was tied 11:23 into the middle session.
At the time of Green’s score, each team had recorded 14 shots on goal. In the final 8:30 of the second, Washington came alive offensively and peppered Valiquette with 11 shots, while the Rangers managed only one against Theodore.
Valiquette rose to the challenge and made several of his best saves in the second half of the middle period. At 13:41 Valiquette robbed Ovechkin by bursting left-to-right across his crease to deny Ovechkin’s one-timer from 10 feet out. Ninety seconds later Valiquette made a strong save on David Steckel’s open stuff attempt.
The Rangers seemingly received a big break at 18:02 when Washington’s Matt Bradley was penalized for a delay of the game penalty when his clearing attempt sailed over the glass and into the crowd. That turned out to not be the case when the Caps struck for a shorthanded goal with 32 seconds remaining in the second.
Steckel started the scoring play with a takeaway in the neutral zone. He then fed a streaking Ovechkin on right wing, and the Russian sniper fired a shot that deflected slightly off the stick of defenseman Wade Redden and sailed past the stick of Valiquette to give Washington a 2-1 lead.
Ovechkin’s 27th goal -- which tied him for the NHL lead -- was the 12th shorthanded tally surrendered by the Rangers already this season.
Despite a passionate effort -- that featured, among other highlights, a spirited fight in which Redden laid out Caps captain Chris Clark with a perfectly-placed right hand to the jaw 7:29 into the second -- and a well-played road game, the Rangers found themselves in a 2-1 hole heading into the third period.
The Rangers jumped out to an early 6-1 shot advantage in the third, but Theodore was strong in goal and the Rangers recorded only one other shot in the final stanza.
With Saturday’s loss, the Rangers have now dropped four out of their last five matches. That includes a pair of defeats at the hands of the Capitals, who are a remarkable 17-1-1 on home ice this season.
Now the Blueshirts face a rough patch in the schedule that will see them play a pair of difficult home contests this upcoming week, with a tilt Monday night vs. the Penguins followed by Wednesday evening’s contest against the Canadiens at The Garden. Then it is on to Buffalo Friday night for a match against the Sabres that begins a run of five straight road games.
|Petr Prucha (3) ASST: Brandon Dubinsky (17), Nikolay Zherdev (23)|
1 - 0 NYR
|PPG - Mike Green (10) ASST: Alexander Semin (19), Viktor Kozlov (17)|
1 - 1 Tie
|SHG - Alex Ovechkin (27) ASST: David Steckel (7)|
2 - 1 WSH
|Lauri Korpikoski Hooking against Eric Fehr|
|Mike Green Tripping against Petr Prucha|
|Nigel Dawes Hooking against Eric Fehr|
|Mike Green Tripping against Petr Prucha|
|Chris Clark Fighting against Wade Redden|
|Wade Redden Fighting against Chris Clark|
|Ryan Callahan Tripping against Boyd Gordon|
|Scott Gomez Hi-sticking against Michael Nylander|
|Michael Nylander Roughing against Scott Gomez|
|Matt Bradley Delaying Game - Puck over glass|
|Marc Staal Fighting against Alexander Semin|
|Alexander Semin Fighting against Marc Staal|
|Alexander Semin Game misconduct|
|Scott Gomez Hooking against Eric Fehr|
|SA: 31||TOI: 59:07|
|Saves: 29||EV: 21 - 21|
|PIM: 0||PP: 7 - 8|
|SV%: .935||SH: 1 - 2|
|SA: 22||TOI: 60:00|
|Saves: 21||EV: 17 - 18|
|PIM: 0||PP: 2 - 2|
|SV%: .955||SH: 2 - 2|