NASHVILLE — You can earn points for losing games in the NHL, and the Rangers have been doing that quite a bit lately. And it is getting old in their locker room.
“We’re losing a lot of close games — overtimes, shootouts,’’ goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said after the Rangers lost in a shootout to the Philadelphia Flyers in the last game before the Christmas break. “It drains you a little bit, I’m not going to lie. It’s real tough. You feel like you’re doing the right things, but it’s not paying off.’’
In the nine games they had played before Saturday night’s visit to the Nashville Predators, the Rangers went to overtime in six of them. And they had lost five of those, three in overtime and two in the shootout. Their last two games before Saturday went beyond the regulation 60 minutes — the loss to the Flyers Dec. 23 and Thursday’s 4-3 overtime loss to Columbus Blue Jackets. Overall, the Rangers were 15-14-7 entering Saturday’s game, good for 37 points, which had them seven points out of a playoff spot. But they had just nine wins in regulation — fewest of any team in the league.
With his club having just embarked on a heavy slate of games — 13 in 24 days, leading up to the NHL All-Star break — Rangers coach David Quinn was asked after the Columbus game whether all these overtime games will ultimately take a physical toll on his team.
“No,’’ the coach said. “We only played an extra 52 seconds or whatever it was [actually, 31 seconds], so that certainly wasn’t going to wear us down.’’
Early on, going past regulation was generally a good thing for the Rangers. They won their first four shootouts this season and five of their first six. But after the Flyers game, they were 5-2 in shootouts, and after Columbus they were 1-5 in games decided in the 3-on-3 overtime. So overall, through the first 36 games of the season, 13 games — more than a third of their games — have gone to overtime. And in those games, they have six wins, and 19 points.
Chris Kreider, the team’s leading goal-scorer, with 19 entering Saturday, said after the Columbus game that the Rangers have been doing good things in their recent games, and it has been one or two breakdowns or unlucky bounces that is costing them wins. Kreider said he is convinced that the breaks will eventually go the Rangers way, and the results will get better. If and when they do, Kreider said, the points the Rangers are getting in these games could prove to be important.
“We’re taking points from games,’’ he said. “We’re losing in overtime and shootouts, so when it’s time [that the team starts playing better], we’re still in the mix.’’
Still, it’s hard for the Rangers players to be happy after an overtime or shootout loss — especially when, as so often has been the case — they had a lead late in the game and couldn’t protect it. The postgame locker room after the losses to Philly and Columbus was pretty somber. Kreider said that, despite the fact they got a point against Columbus, “it’s hard to not take two points from it, especially a division game like that.’’
But as difficult as it may be, Kreider said the Rangers cannot allow themselves to be discouraged by their latest results.
“You can’t get away from the stuff we did well,’’ he said. “You’ve got to stick with that. We’ve got to stick with that moving forward.’’