Monday, January 16, 2006

Rangers Left Blue In Columbus

For the second straight game, the Rangers fell a goal short on the road. Having lost at Detroit 4-3 Saturday afternoon, they once again lost by an identical score at Columbus (16-28-2) Monday night.

Without Darius Kasparaitis for the first time this season due to a sprained knee sustained during warmups at Detroit, the Rangers blueline struggled for the second consecutive game. Skating in Kasparaitis' place was Hartford call-up Thomas Pock. Paired with Tom Poti, Pock had a rough night defensively. Largely responsible for two Columbus goals, Pock was caught up ice twice and didn't get back in time.

This is the chance the Rangers took when they unloaded Maxim Kondratiev to Anaheim for Petr Sykora. Kondratiev at least would have recovered. Pock is an offensive defenseman and it showed. With his club ahead on an early goal from surprise lineup addition Marcel Hossa (replaced Ryan Hollweg), Pock tried to setup another goal. But when his pass missed connection, the Blue Jackets quickly transitioned up the ice. Somehow, Jason Chimera was allowed to walk in on a rusty Kevin Weekes and beat him to tie it 1:23 later. Weekes was making his first start in five games.

The Columbus onslaught would continue when David Vyborny one-timed home a Jan Hrdina feed on the power play, taking advantage of an undisciplined Michael Nylander high sticking minor to put the Jackets up 2-1 at 7:27.

With Weekes out of sorts, Columbus struck for their third unanswered goal just 2:14 later. Remarkably, it came from tough guy Jody Shelley. This time, Ron Hainsey skated untouched up the ice and setup Shelley for his second of the season, forcing Ranger Coach Tom Renney to call timeout.

It seemed to work as his club responded with a couple of good shifts to turn the tide. Some hard work paid off again from the checking line. With Dominic Moore having setup Hossa's first goal, once again, he was involved on Jason Ward's sixth of the season. Off an effective cycle along the boards, Moore took a pass from Ville Nieminen along the boards and then found a streaking Ward all alone for a tap-in to cut it to 3-2 at 14:48.

Though nobody scored in a high tempo second which saw Columbus outshoot New York 12-10, the Blue Jackets came very close to going back ahead by two. With the Rangers on a power play, Trevor Letowski broke in shorthanded on Weekes and flipped a backhand which went off Weekes' glove and rolled over the goal line. But before it crossed the line, a sliding Letwoski knocked the net off. After a lengthy review, referees Justin StPierre and Kelly Sutherland made the proper call, waiving off the goal. The fortunate break allowed the Blueshirts to still trail by one after two.

It paid off when Hossa's resurgence continued. Off another feed from Moore (third assist of night), Hossa beat Marc Denis shortside to tie it 3-3 at 6:56. It was his second two-goal game of his career and first as a Ranger.

But on a night in which a faster skating Columbus team swarmed the Rangers, Rick Nash struck to give the Jackets the win with 6:38 remaining. Taking a pass from Nikolai Zherdev, Nash broke in all alone on Weekes and stuffed the puck in. Ironically, it was Pock's responsibility which led to the goal.

After killing off a Tom Poti minor, the Rangers pressed for the equalizer in the final minute but Marek Malik's pass was just behind a wide open Jaromir Jagr. All game long, Jagr was quiet as was the second unit of Petr Prucha, Nylander and Petr Sykora. They wasted a great effort from Moore's line.

Unsteady most of the game, Weekes turned aside 28 of 32 shots while Denis was stronger in making 33 saves.

Notes: Kasparaitis remains day-to-day with the knee problem. ... Rangers (25-14-7) continue their four-game road trip at Pittsburgh (11-25-9) Thursday night. It concludes at Boston Saturday before they return home Sunday to host the Devils.

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