What took place last night at the Garden was a collective brain cramp from a team that does not have the luxury to be able to win without playing intelligent hockey.

The concern is if this is a temporary condition or the dawning of a trend. If it is the former, then it can be worked though. If it is the latter, then the onus is on the coach, general manager and team leaders to reverse it.

“Our guys were asleep the first 20 minutes,” John Tortorella said after the Rangers’ listless 3-1 loss to the Senators. “Why we were asleep, I don’t have an answer.”

The Rangers next game is in Ottawa on Thursday. Perhaps by then, the Rangers will have diagnosed why they have been unable to put forth 60-minute efforts in two of the last three games. That the Rangers earned four of six points has everything to do with consecutive games against an inept Islanders squad.

What troubled the Rangers Sunday was their slow start. Tortorella had no idea why the team came out flat and later shot down a suggestion that his team’s sluggishness had to do with the 5 p.m. start. Tortorella called timeout 4:09 into the game, but the coach noted that it “certainly didn’t help us in the first period; we were still awful.” Brandon Dubinsky wondered aloud if he and his teammates were conned into a false sense of security after beating the Islanders Thursday and Friday night. Ryan Callahan simply said that the Rangers “did not start the way we needed to. Due to what, I’m not sure.”

The Rangers had been clearly outplayed by a mediocre Ottawa team and were luck to be in a scoreless tie at the first intermission. Teams that depend on luck are, often, losers. Teams that make their own luck are typically successful.

Ottawa received a break that led to Chris Kelly’s short-handed breakaway goal at 4:27 of the second period, which opened the scoring. Kelly corralled a loose puck at the blueline when Derek Stepan could not control it at the point. Kelly, who had three goals in 27 games prior to last night, burst in alone on Henrik Lundqvist before ripping a bullet past the Rangers goaltender.

“(The) puck’s a little bouncy. I can’t handle it that well and off to the races he goes,” Stepan said. “In time I will get better with that. But that thing’s a hot potato right now. Let’s just say it was a tough play.”

Kelly’s second goal was a wraparound with 2:24 left in the match. He added an empty net marker at 19:59 for his first NHL hat trick.

Tortorella called Kelly’s game-winner “a blown coverage” and wouldn’t “dissect it as far as players.” A few minutes later, though, he laid criticism at the feet of his top line of Marian Gaborik, Erik Christensen and Sean Avery for not playing defense on Kelly’s goal . Since their dominant effort in the Rangers’ 6-5 win on Long Island last Thursday night (nine points and plus-eight), the trio is minus-five, does not have a point and only took five shots on goal in the last two games. Last night, they only generated one shot and were minus-five

“I thought they had some good shifts. That’s a line, with two minutes left, has to defend. It’s a simple coverage. The whole group of them—it’s not just one person—the whole group on the ice; we need to defend,” Tortorella said. “I had that line matched up against (Jarkko) Ruutu, Kelly and (Chris) Neil, I think it was who played there. They need to defend that play. The whole group. Not just one person.”

Brandon Prust’s short-handed goal at10:50 of the second period was the Rangers lone tally. The goal was Prust’s third of the season and his second in the last three games. It tied the game at 1-1. Lundqvist made 22 saves. Pascal Leclaire stopped 25 shots for the Senators.

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