SAN JOSE, Calif. — When the blueprint is blurred, when mistakes are costly and the mental baggage of losing is as heavy as the suitcases and equipment carried from planes to hotels to rinks on the road, just one thing is left for the Rangers.
“All we can do is get ready for the next game . . . go back to the drawing board,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, who cancelled a scheduled practice on Wednesday just hours after his frustrated team dropped their third straight game on this four-city West Coast swing, 6-3, to the Anaheim Ducks. It also was their sixth loss in the last eight games, their worst tailspin since their 1-5-2 start to the season.
So the Rangers (24-20-5), who awoke Wednesday two points out of a playoff spot, used the time to regroup with meetings and video work rather than hitting the ice to prepare for the final match before the All-Star break, a visit to the Shark Tank on Thursday.
“We’re not making it easy on ourselves,” said captain Ryan McDonagh. “It’s pretty self-explanatory, we’re losing our structure and that’s disappointing for sure. We’ve got to be more disciplined. It’s not out of our control that we can turn it around and win this last game.”
Special teams have played a huge role in the trip so far. The power play is 3-for-8, but the penalty kill has struggled — it has allowed five goals in 10 chances. Michael Grabner scored a shorthanded goal in the second period on Tuesday to get the Rangers within a goal, but they allowed a power-play goal in the first minute of the third to again fall behind by two goals.
And on Tuesday, 35-year-old Henrik Lundqvist, who has compiled an 18-9-2 record, a 2.42 GAA and .929 save percentage in 32 appearances since Nov. 1, showed that he is human after all. He confessed after the game that he was slower than usual against the Ducks — he was pulled in the first period after allowing three goals on the first seven shots.
“There’s going to be some nights like this,” Vigneault said. “He’s been our MVP all year long and I know he’s going to bounce back.”
As pressure mounts to earn a playoff spot, Lundqvist’s teammates need to rebound as well to collect some points away from Madison Square Garden. After Thursday’s game here, the Blueshirts will play 19 of the final 32 games on the road, where they are 7-12-2.
Kevin Hayes, who missed his sixth game on Tuesday with a leg contusion, will be on the ice during Thursday’s morning skate here to determine whether he will play. Chris Kreider and Kevin Shattenkirk are out as they continue to rehab from their surgeries.
The Sharks (26-14-7, 59 points) received some unfortunate injury news on Wednesday. Center Joe Thornton, second on the team with 36 points, hurt his right MCL on Tuesday and is out at least “several weeks,” according to general manager Doug Wilson.