NEW YORK -- It ended pretty much the way it began for the Rangers on Sunday night at Madison Square Garden.
Approximately 53½ minutes after head coach John Tortorella called a timeout in an effort to try to instill some energy into his lifeless team, a blown defensive assignment by the Rangers' top line of Sean Avery, Erik Christensen and Marian Gaborik sealed the 3-1 loss to a slumping Ottawa Senators team that had lost three straight games and was playing for the second time in as many nights.
"I know you're all going to ask me why we were asleep, but I don't have an answer," Tortorella said. "So there's no sense of asking."
But did the team respond to the timeout?
"No," he replied "I thought the second and third periods we played [well]. I'm not sure when I called it in the first period [4:09 in]. We were still awful."
In consecutive wins over the lowly New York Islanders, the Rangers didn't look that way, getting their forecheck going, getting pucks in deep and creating scoring opportunities that turned into goals.
For the first four minutes against the Senators, they weren't playing their usual gritty style. Instead, they were getting outhustled on the ice and losing puck battles, prompting Tortorella to call a timeout in an attempt to shift momentum the other way.
"It's inexcusable," Rangers right winger Ryan Callahan said. "We need to have a better start. We knew they were coming off their back-to-back so we wanted to jump on them right away, but we didn't do that when we needed to.
"It was surprising. Everybody in here prepares mentally and physically the same way. And you want to start the game off well. That was one of our keys with them coming off a back-to-back, but for whatever reason we didn't do it. And I think it hurt us tonight."
The Rangers certainly had a chance to win against the Senators, but couldn't convert on any of their multitude of odd-man rushes or power plays (0-for-4). There were also a pair of times sniper Marian Gaborik was hauled down and no penalty was called.
Still, it didn't matter. The end result was what it was: a loss. A tough one at that.
"For me it's a tough one to eat because I still thought it was a winnable game," Tortorella said. "I thought we got our legs underneath us. I thought we did some really good things. We did some good things on the power play with tips, but just couldn't finish. Their goalie [Pascal Leclaire] made some key saves and that's what's hard about it, as poorly as we started."
The Rangers eventually tied the game at a goal apiece midway through the second period when Brandon Prust rushed in on a 2-on-1 and roofed a short-handed snapper by Leclaire at 10:50. It was the last and only tally of the night for the Broadway Blueshirts.
Senators center Chris Kelly, who eventually finished off the first hat trick of his career with an empty netter, scored the game-winner with 2:24 remaining in regulation, speeding in unmarked to the right of the crease and burying a feed from teammate Jarkko Ruutu behind the net by Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (22 saves).
"It was just an absolute blown coverage," Tortorella said. "It's a simple coverage and it was an absolute blown coverage."
So where exactly do the Rangers go from here?
The practice rink, where they'll have three days to prepare for a rematch with the Senators, this one in Ottawa on Thursday night.
"We gotta make sure we come out and have good practices," Callahan said, "and make sure Thursday we come out and have a good start."
Apparently, easier said than done.
Mike Mazzeo is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.