GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Hockey's oxymoronic nature has the Rangers feeling a bit like mournful optimists after Thursday's 3-0 loss to Pittsburgh, which dropped them below .500 (3-4-0) in this young but tightly compacted season.
What the team needs, coach John Tortorella said after Friday's optional workout, is to be "stronger mentally." Yet the apparent contradiction there -- sort of an accurate estimate of the team's current difficulties -- is that the players are "overthinking," Tortorella said. "This game isn't for thinking."
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The "mental part," Tortorella said, is "about reacting, it's about being quick, it's about being hard. When you're tentative, you're just not sure of yourself. There are a number of guys fighting that a little bit, especially in the offensive part."
It's an inexact science, a chicken-and-egg conundrum.
"The hardest part in these situations," said center Derek Stepan, still looking for his first goal, "is you don't want to press or grip your stick too hard, just kind of relax and play."
But relaxation doesn't come easily in a slump despite the ability to recognize, as Stepan does, that "it happens in any hockey player's career. You just get in these little dips, these little funks, and you've just got to find a way to kind of get the ball rolling."
What provides the Rangers a favorable outlook is that they have played well at times. And, with less time between games after the league's long lockout, Stepan judged it "a great thing" to be able to quickly "take another crack" at opponents. They play at Tampa Bay on Saturday night and in Newark against the Devils on Tuesday before returning for a home game against the Islanders on Thursday.
"We need to find more energy," center Brian Boyle said, "more of ourselves . . . Our game's forecheck, pressure. It's up-tempo, a hard game, and we need to find that."
Easily reasoned but elusive, both Tortorella and his players conceded. The failure to produce typically leads to insecurity, and doubt tends to restrict efficiency.
"Confidence is a big thing," Tortorella said. "We always talk about the even keel, not getting too high, not getting too low. We're in that situation with a number of our players; I think that's very important right now."