Derek Stepan was straightforward when asked if the first period of the Rangers’ 4-2 loss to the Blue Jackets at the Garden Thursday night rock bottom.
“I don’t know,” Stepan said. “I guess if you wanted to put it that way, yeah, sure. I don’t think so, though. Energy was good on the bench even after the third. It is what it is. You can’t give up three goals in the first period on home ice. At the same time, we just have to find a way to start getting something back.”
Getting any sort of positive traction during a franchise-record nine-game homestand has been a talking point throughout the Rangers’ (15-17-1) four-game losing streak.
“It’s a no-brainer,” Dan Girardi said when asked if the Rangers were failing to take full advantage of the opportunity of playing at the Garden for an extended stretch. “Being home for nine in a row or whatever it is, it’s a chance for us to really propel ourselves up the standings. It’s pretty unfortunate we’ve lost the first four. Hopefully we can figure out how to salvage the rest of the homestand and bring us back to .500.”
Before the Rangers can get back to even, they may want to lower their expectations to not trailing by multiple goals after the opening 20 minutes. The first period of Thursday night’s game was a microcosm of everything that has ailed the Rangers during the slide. The Rangers came out flat and struggled to create sustained pressure in the offensive zone for much of the first 40 minutes.
Both are problematic, and it bit the Rangers in an opening 11:10 in which Columbus scored three goals to chase Henrik Lundqvist (10 saves).
“It all comes down to how we can figure out how to come out of the first with a lead or stay even,” Girardi said. “I think guys are trying to do the right thing. We’re trying to get in the forecheck, get in the offense and sometime we get a little too anxious, a little too excited and don’t really read the rush.”
The tone for the game was set 38 seconds in as Matt Calvert accelerated past Anton Stralman, and fired a shot that beat Lundqvist high to the glove side to give Columbus a 1-0 lead.
Ex-Ranger Artem Anisimov poured salt into the wound 8:08 later as he lifted ex-Islander Blake Comeau’s cross-ice goalmouth feed over Lundqvist to put Columbus up 2-0.
David Savard’s unassisted slapshot from the high slot at 11:10 made it 3-0 and chased Lundqvist.
“Confidence is such an important thing in this game,” Lundqvist said. “Right now it’s not very high.”
Cam Talbot stopped 13 shots in relief.
Dominic Moore’s backhander with 5:52 left in the first was his first goal of the season and cut the deficit to 3-1. Moore’s goal was Curtis McElhinney’s lone blemish in a 15-save first period. Columbus lost McElhinney for the game after the first intermission due to injury. Mike McKenna, McElhinney’s replacement, made 17 saves in the final 40 minutes.
“[McKenna] came in and saved us,” ex-Ranger Brandon Dubinsky said. “He was great when he had to be.”
After a dreadful opening 20 minutes, the Rangers progressively improved over the last two periods in terms of sustaining an offensive attack. But the only goal New York got came off Girardi’s stick, whose drive with 8:53 cut the deficit to 3-2.
“I thought we gave a good shot and came close in the third, really pushed for it,” Stralman said.
But Ryan Johansen’s goal with 1:32 left meant the Rangers were relegated to offering platitudes.
“That didn’t feel like we were down 3-0,” Brad Richards said. “Obviously you know what’s going on but it didn’t feel like it. We need to build off of what we did in the second half of the game.”
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.