Rangers fall to Predators at home
Nick Spaling and Rich Clune scored first-period goals, and seldom-used backup Carter Hutton made 28 saves as the Predators broke a five-game losing streak by beating the skidding Rangers 4-1 on Tuesday night.
New York geared up for a team-record, nine-game homestand, but three games into it the Rangers have only an overtime loss on the positive side of the ledger (0-2-1).
And now they will have to go the next four to six weeks without captain Ryan Callahan, who sprained his left knee in the first period. Callahan is second on the club with seven goals.
''Everyone has to step up a little more,'' defenseman Dan Girardi said. ''He brings a lot to the team, a lot of different characteristics.''
The Rangers were already playing without top defenseman Marc Staal, who sustained a concussion two games earlier.
Hutton (5-3-1) made his first start since Nov. 10 and his third appearance in that span as the Predators try to get by while No. 1 goalie Pekka Rinne (hip) is out. Marek Mazanec went 0-4-1 in the previous five games.
''I played a couple periods,'' Hutton said. ''We practice pretty hard, we train pretty hard. This was kind of something I was ready to do.''
Matt Hendricks made it 3-1 just 2:38 into the third, knocking in a loose puck from in front, with Clune earning an assist. Paul Gaustad scored an empty-net goal with 1:06 left and added two assists.
''I think everyone is going to sleep a little easier tonight,'' Clune said. ''We stopped the bleeding, but we have to move forward, ride the high on the plane, but refocus fast.''
Rick Nash cut New York's deficit in half in the second period and Henrik Lundqvist stopped 22 shots. The Rangers have dropped four straight at home (0-3-1).
''The only thing I know right now is it can only go up,'' Lundqvist said. ''It's extremely tough mentally, and you try to be positive. You have to.''
Despite a team meeting after their 4-1 loss to Washington on Sunday, several lineup changes - and a call-up from the AHL - the Rangers came out flat and fell into a 2-0 hole in the first period.
New York (15-16-1) added veteran forward Arron Asham to the lineup, but the Rangers still can't find consistency to their game.
''There were certain areas we talked about before the game,'' coach Alain Vigneault said. ''I thought we started off all right, but it makes it real challenging when you are down 2-0 early.''
Nashville was hardly impressive or overly aggressive, but the Predators made the most of their chances and scored twice on only six shots.
Spaling made it 1-0 with 6:15 left, right after the Rangers briefly avoided falling behind on another scoring chance in front. Spaling delivered a hard hit on defenseman Ryan McDonagh and then was free in front to score his fifth of the season before McDonagh could get back in the play.
Another breakdown produced the Predators' second goal 4:07 later. Hendricks raced the puck up right wing and flipped a perfect pass over the stick of Rangers forward Dominic Moore and onto Clune's blade.
Clune, who had no points and 69 penalty minutes in 17 games this season, deftly shifted the puck from forehand to backhand and slid it past Lundqvist.
When the period ended, the Rangers were serenaded with boos as they trudged off to the dressing room.
''This crowd is a demanding crowd. You can hear the crowd getting on them, letting them know what they thought,'' Clune said.
New York enjoyed a better second period. Even though the Rangers were outshot 12-6, they scored the only goal.
Nash finished a crisp three-way passing play that started with Derick Brassard moving the puck to his left to Brad Richards, who quickly found Nash down low. Nash cut right to left across the crease and tucked in his sixth goal of the season at 6:38.
Brassard nearly tied it with 1:49 remaining in the second, but his hard drive struck a post behind Hutton.
''It was not the start we were looking for,'' Lundqvist said. ''Still, after two periods, it is just a one-goal game. We tried to fight back in the second and in the third.
''That third goal killed us.''
NOTES: Nash earned his 600th NHL point. ... Vigneault confirmed Staal's concussion, but said it doesn't appear to be as severe as his previous one a few years ago. ... Clune entered with four goals, 11 points and 208 penalty minutes in 78 NHL games. It was his second multipoint game. ... Earlier this season, Hutton became the seventh goalie to win a game with the Predators.