GREENBURGH, N.Y. — When the Rangers were at West Point in early October for team-bonding activities, esteemed mountaineer Ed Viesturs spoke to them about the challenge and the teamwork required to scale the world’s highest peaks.
They’d better hope everyone was listening, because the Blueshirts, bogged down in the snow of a 1-5-2 start, have a long, difficult climb ahead of them. The pressure is on the players, coach Alain Vigneault and general manager Jeff Gorton to collectively dig out.
At this juncture, players can’t focus on past defeats or playoff possibilities. Based on recent seasons, it might take 96 points in 82 games for a wild-card spot. The Rangers have four in eight. This inconsistent and somewhat unlucky group desperately needs wins and confidence, beginning by not falling behind early in games.
“As it’s built up here, we’re trying to do a little something extra so we don’t have a bad start,” defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. “It’s never a place you want to be, coming from behind all the time. But that shows a lot about us. We’re hungry for a win. It’s hurting us in here, but we’re still fighting.”
The next round is Saturday afternoon against Nashville (4-2-1) in the fourth game of a season-high six straight at home. The Blueshirts can point to the Predators, who were slow out of the gate last season at 2-5-1 and made it to the Stanley Cup Final, or the Ducks, who made the playoffs after a 1-5-2 start in 2015-16.
“We’re just going to try to build off the way we played in the third period [against the Islanders],” defenseman Brendan Smith said, referring to the rally that erased a two-goal deficit in a 4-3 shootout loss. The Rangers also came back against the Penguins in Tuesday’s 5-4 overtime loss. “Other teams, after they play us, I’ve talked to them, and they’re like, ‘Wow, you guys are really good. We just got some fortunate bounces.’ ”
During a brisk, short practice Friday, Vigneault ran the same line combinations that started against the Islanders and said goalie Henrik Lundqvist will make his seventh start against the Predators. Vigneault also pointed to forward Rick Nash as the “image” of the team’s state.
“He’s been a beast,” Vigneault said, “He’s getting tons of scoring chances, and he’s only got one goal . . . I’ve been through a few of these situations, like any coach who’s been around a while. They want to succeed. It’s a little bit challenging, on the ice and mentally, but . . . Our second half of the [Islanders] game, we played as a five-man group. That’s how we have to play. It’s a fine line, and right now, we’re on the wrong side of that line.”