By Denis Gorman
The first chapter of the 2013 Hudson River Rumble picked up where the last chapter of the rivalry ended: a loss to the Devils at the Prudential Center.
The Rangers fell to 4-5-0 this season after being outclassed by the reigning Eastern Conference champions, 3-1, Tuesday night.
“We have some guys who are really playing hard and we have some guys who look scared,” Rangers head coach John Tortorella said. “I’ll tell you right now, I’m not waiting. We have some guys right now who are very tentative, very careful. We don’t play careful hockey.”
Adam Henrique and David Clarkson gave the Devils all the offense they would need in a 14:07 span of the first period. Henrique opened the scoring with an even-strength wrister from the slot past Henrik Lundqvist (19 saves) five minutes into the game. Clarkson scored the first of his two goals with 53 seconds left in the period.
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“Two tough plays,” Lundqvist said of the first two goals. “[The Rangers] have to focus on our starts. [That was] not the start we were looking for. [The Rangers have to be] consistent. That’s what it’s all about. That’s what we’re looking for.”
Clarkson’s second of the game — and team-leading seventh of the season — came on the power play 2:53 into the third.
The Devils have won consecutive games and are 5-1-3.
As has been the case throughout the abbreviated season, the Rangers looked like a team still learning how to play with each other. More troubling was that Chris Kreider — who played for the first time since Jan. 23 — and AHL call-up J.T. Miller were the Rangers’ best players on the ice.
“They’re probably going to take some jobs,” Tortorella said. “We’re very happy with Kreider; I thought he played well. I thought Miller was hard on the puck, did some really good things. We’ll see where we go with the lineup.”
Only Kreider’s top shelf laser over Martin Brodeur (24 saves) 6:21 into the third kept the future Hall of Famer from notching his 121st career shutout. Nine of Brodeur’s NHL-record 120 shutouts have come against the Rangers.
Equally problematic has been the inability of the power play to provide any scoring punch. The Rangers entered the game 3-for-30 with the man advantage, and did not score on any of their five power plays Tuesday night.
“There’s a number of things [with the power play],” Brad Richards said. “[We are] out of sync [and] not reacting. Trying maybe to look for too much instead of just keeping it simple and getting shots. There’s a lot of different things when you’re not scoring on it.”
The Rangers only generated three shots on their power plays, with Marc Staal’s snap shot at 15:38 of the first being the most dangerous. However, Staal was not able to elevate the puck as it lay under Brodeur, who promptly froze it.
“Special teams let us down,” Tortorella said. “You need a goal on [the] power play at a certain time. It’s not so much percentages that you’re looking at right now. It’s getting a goal at a key time.”
Dan Girardi was scratched with an undisclosed injury. An organizational spokesperson wrote in a text message to Metro that Girardi was “just banged up” and “day-to-day.” One half of the Rangers’ top pair defense corps with Ryan McDonagh, Girardi had played in 82 games in four of his last five full seasons. He missed two games in the 2010-11 season.
“We missed him for sure,” McDonagh said. “He plays a ton of minutes, all the hard minutes. You can see from the goals they scored were ‘D’ zone plays. With that being said, we all know how to play as a team. Injuries are part of it, so we can’t use that as an excuse.”
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.