Rangers blanked by rival Capitals in first game after Christmas

The Rangers didn’t want to hear any of the excuses they could’ve leaned on after getting shut out for just the second time this season Tuesday night against the Capitals.

It wasn’t the rust from their four-day layoff for the holiday break. Nor was it the questionable officiating that plagued this matchup for third place in the Metropolitan Division standings. The Rangers accepted full responsibility for their uninspired and sloppy showing in the 4-0 loss at the Garden, where the fans spent more time booing the referees than cheering on their team.

Puck bounces and penalty calls may not have gone their way, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if the Rangers play like they did in this one.

“We were garbage tonight,” head coach Gerard Gallant said bluntly. “We didn’t deserve to win. [The refs] had nothing to do with us losing, trust me.”

Alex Ovechkin (right) celebrates after Erik Gustaffson (not pictured) scores a goal on Igor Shesterkin during the Rangers' 4-0 loss to the Capitals.
Alex Ovechkin (right) celebrates after Erik Gustaffson (not pictured) scores a goal on Igor Shesterkin during the Rangers’ 4-0 loss to the Capitals.
Corey Sipkin

This was one of those games in which the officials’ presence was felt. One phantom call after the next followed by one missed call after the next. Zero consistency and zero precedent, however, are the ways of NHL officiating. This is nothing new. It just happened to have a notable impact on Tuesday’s matchup.

A slashing penalty was called on one of the Rangers’ top penalty killers, Ryan Lindgren, in the first period on a play the defenseman wasn’t even near. Chris Kreider’s soft takedown of Alex Ovechkin 21 seconds later probably had more to do with the Capitals star than it did Kreider.


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Still, Washington made the five-on-three advantage count and pulled ahead 1-0 at 8:44 of the opening frame.

Marcus Johansson (left) scores on goal on Igor Shesterkin during the Rangers' loss.
Marcus Johansson (left) scores on goal on Igor Shesterkin during the Rangers’ loss.
Corey Sipkin

Then there was Erik Gustafsson slashing Julien Gauthier’s stick and skates, causing the Rangers forward to fall to his knees on his move to the net in the second period. No call was made, but the play did briefly go under review to ensure the puck didn’t cross the goal line at any point.

The most egregious officiating blunder of the evening was certainly on the Capitals’ second goal, which the Rangers challenged for goalie interference. Washington had the numbers in the offensive zone and Gustafsson buried the puck on a rebound while Conor Sheary clearly skated into the blue paint and made contact with Rangers goalie Igor Shesterkin’s pad.

Ref Michael Markovic skated to the center of the ice and proclaimed there was no contact.

Vitali Kravtsov looks to keep the puck away from Dmitry Orlov during the first period of the Rangers' loss.
Vitali Kravtsov looks to keep the puck away from Dmitry Orlov during the first period of the Rangers’ loss.
Corey Sipkin

“We didn’t get any breaks tonight from the officials,” Gallant said. “We were a lot worse — and I’m not saying that they were — but I thought the goalie interference, I mean, he went in the crease. We didn’t put him in the crease, he made contact. It wasn’t much contact, but there was enough contact for me.”

Nevertheless, the Rangers didn’t do themselves any favors, either. Plus, the Capitals were without forward TJ Oshie (lower-body injury) and John Carlson (upper-body injury).

To start his postgame press conference, Gallant gave a simple assessment of the game: One team showed up ready to win and the other team didn’t. When asked about possible rust from the break, Gallant pointed out that the Capitals were playing under the same circumstances.

A lot of players didn’t show up to play hard, Gallant said, except for Shesterkin, who finished with 26 saves.

The Rangers also went scoreless on five power-play opportunities. Three of those came in the final 20 minutes, and on one the Rangers pulled Shesterkin for the six-on-four edge. On that one, Sheary sent the puck the length of the ice into the empty net for the shorthanded tally.

“It is what it is, it’s out of your control,” Trouba said. “Calls go both ways. I think that’s an easy copout to blame someone else for something. We know we didn’t play a good game here today.”

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