Have the Rangers, who are 2-6-2 in the last 10 games, bottomed out?
After salvaging a point on the three-game Western Canada swing in which they were swept and outscored 14-10, the Blueshirts were pleased to be at Calgary International Airport on Sunday morning for the flight home, a day off, and presumably, a chance to regroup before Tuesday’s rematch with the Edmonton Oilers at Madison Square Garden.
“We’re in a rut,” defenseman Marc Staal said following the second bizarre game in a back-to-back weekend set, a 5-4 overtime loss to the Flames on Saturday, when the Rangers had shown some desperation and resiliency to overcome a 4-1 deficit in the third period. “We’re not used to this.”
For the second straight game, an opponent struck quickly thanks to defensive swoons, forcing a frantic, determined rally that fell short. On Friday, the Rangers trailed 5-3 in the third period in Edmonton, came back to tie and then surrendered the winner seconds later.
“It’s like we’re too tentative to start, and it’s causing us to second-guess our coverage,” said Staal, “and then when we fall behind, we start playing like we need to score and stop thinking about it and we make plays to get us back in the game. We need to find that looseness like we’re behind, with the conscious effort of defending well. We can do it, but we’re not defending well enough to be able to take those chances to win games early on.”
Asked why for the second straight game the team found a higher performance level only when trailing in the third period, captain Ryan McDonagh said: “You’ve got a good point. We’ve got to find that mentality right from the start of games and carry it through, the high intensity level, guys hungry around the net, and continue to try to find a way to score goals.”
Before heading to the downturn in Western Canada, the Rangers had clipped the Senators, 4-1. “We thought our game was heading in the right direction,” McDonagh said Saturday in Calgary. “We certainly didn’t foresee this, coming out with just one point. I’m proud of the team, especially after what happened in Edmonton, we could’ve just folded and said, ‘Let’s go home.’ We’re very competitive in here, regardless of how it may look at times. ’’
As always, Henrik Lundqvist will be a key for whenever a turnaround begins, and the eventual return of defenseman Kevin Klein (strained oblique) possibly this week, and Derek Stepan (two broken ribs), sometime after, will provide reinforcements.
Although coach Alain Vigneault said some people would see some positives in the resiliency, the poor passes and turnovers that opened the gates for odd-man rushes and open shots in front of Lundqvist and Antti Raanta, was troubling. “Our mistakes are very correctable,” a tight-lipped Vigneault said late Saturday, “and we’re going to work on it.”