The Rangers are only six games into the season with 50 left to play, but already Tuesday the alarms were going off. They lost their fourth in a row and blew yet another lead – their third in as many games. And Wednesday after practice, the urgency was palpable: The effort is there, David Quinn said, but the confidence may not be.
"You could feel the dejection, the woe-is-me attitude a little bit," Quinn said, referring to his team’s reaction to the Sabres' late goal in the second period Tuesday – the one that gave Buffalo the eventual 3-2 win. "I think a lot of our guys are pressing. It was a frustrating evening last night, that’s for sure. And I think what happened was that the frustration from the previous three games kind of boiled over last night. After we gave up that [late] goal, I just thought we stopped doing some of the things we’re going to need to do to claw back in."
Save for Pavel Buchnevich and Artemi Panarin, the top six forwards have disappointed. Their third defensive pairing – Tony DeAngelo and Jack Johnson – has similarly underperformed, and goalies Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev haven’t been the game-changers the team needs.
But above that, said Ryan Lindgren, the team is missing some of the swagger that led to their surprising hot streak down the stretch last season before qualifying for the 24-team playoff format.
"Last year, knowing the way we were rolling toward the end of the year, goals like [the go-ahead Sabres score] didn’t deflate us," the defenseman said. "We were confident. We knew we were going to get back into the game and that’s why confidence is such a big thing. That goal deflated us yesterday and you just feel it. Last year, that didn’t happen for us."
It’s especially pivotal in this COVID-shortened season. Six games may seem like nothing, but time is moving quickly, and mental recalibration – arguably one of the most difficult parts of a season – needs to happen just as fast.
"You can’t go through a lull like this," Lindgren said. "You have to make sure your confidence stays high and if you have a tough game, you’re playing either the next night or two nights, so you’ve got to make sure you’re able to bounce back and not get too low."
The Rangers (1-4-1) will get another shot Thursday, again against the Sabres in Buffalo, and Quinn said changes are a possibility. They haven’t yet figured out their lineup for the game, though the checklist is clear – timely plays, mental toughness, and consistency.
"You’ve just got to keep plugging along," Quinn said. "There’s no real secret potion … I keep saying this: You have to make timely plays and do a better job of playing situational hockey and if we do that, we’ll be rewarded."
Goalies in the spotlight. Shesterkin will get the start in net Thursday, Quinn said, adding that though he thought his goalies have been "OK," they're likely to disagree. "If you talk to both of them, I know they want to be better for sure," Quinn said. "It’s not just our goaltending. A bunch of people need to be better. We’re certainly expecting to get the goaltending we know we’re capable of getting starting tomorrow night." Shesterkin has a 2.98 goals-against average and an .886 save percentage, while Georgiev clocks in at 2.66 GAA and an .896 save percentage. They've started three games apiece.