WASHINGTON – At 18-5-1, and owning the highest points percentage (.771) in the NHL entering Saturday night’s game in the nation’s capital, clearly the Rangers have done a few things right this season.
One of those things is they have been good at not allowing one loss to turn into a losing streak. The Rangers are the only NHL team to not lose two games in a row.
Coming off a 6-2 loss Tuesday in Ottawa – and with a day off, and a couple days of practice between games – the Rangers were confident they would get back to being defensively-responsible against the 12-8-3 Capitals at Capital One Arena.
The key was a combination of attitude and attention to detail, according to coach Peter Laviolette, who returned to Washington Saturday for the first time since parting ways last spring with the Capitals, who he coached for three seasons.
“Eighty-two games is a long time to be on top of your game the entire time,’’ Laviolette said after Friday’s practice. “Whether you like it or not, every team, at some point, they don't have the night that they're looking for. The best thing you can do is try to fix it; answer why it wasn't good. And a lot of times it is because it's either the details, or it's turnovers, or it’s attitude, or it’s speed or energy.
“I think one of the good things about a team that is looking to be successful, is that they can answer that, and you can try to take something that you weren't happy (with), let them fix it, and make it right.’’
“You’ve got to bear down more,’’ forward Vincent Trocheck said. “It's a little bit more ‘oomph’ to your game. I mean, anytime you lose one, you don't want to lose that second one. I feel like, in history, great teams don't lose a second game. You don't lose back-to-back games.’’
After splitting their first four games of the season, the Rangers won six in a row before losing in a shootout at Minnesota Nov. 4. In that game, they were without defenseman Adam Fox (lower-body injury), center Filip Chytil (upper-body injury), and goaltender Igor Shesterkin (undisclosed). Backup goalie Jonathan Quick helped them earn a point, and they rallied to win the next four games after that, before losing at Dallas Nov. 20. They then won the next three games, before losing at home to Buffalo Nov. 27, and won the next three after that before losing at Ottawa.
Although most of the Rangers talked about “flushing’’ that loss to Ottawa – an effort they universally agreed was awful – they also noted their biggest problem was all the odd-man rushes they allowed.
“I think maybe, you get on a roll and maybe you think every game is going to be easy. But it's clearly not,’’ forward Jimmy Vesey said. “The minor details of the game can slip because you think it's not that important… But they add up and they compound. I think that's what you saw with the mistakes we made and the chances we gave up (against Ottawa). So we're moving on, but we cannot give up that many chances anymore.’’
Entering Saturday, the Rangers had allowed 25 goals against over their previous six games, an average of 4.16. They’d scored 23 goals (3.83 per) but still won four of the six, meaning that even though their tight defensive structure was fraying, they were finding ways to win anyway.
Against Washington, Laviolette was hoping for a reset.
“The last few games have gotten out of hand and so you address it,’’ Laviolette said. “It's like anything, when something pops up, you address it, and try to fix it.’’