GREENBURGH, N.Y. — The Washington Capitals set a rather low bar for future NHL expansion teams to pass with a record-low .131 winning percentage and an 8-67-5 bottom line in their 1974-75 debut. Now the Vegas Golden Knights are the new guys on ice and they’re setting a rather high bar entering Monday’s game against the Islanders with an expansion-best eight wins in their first nine tries.
“It doesn’t really feel like a true expansion team,” Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said after practice Monday at the MSG Training Center. “They’re a good team.”
In an unexpected twist, it’s the Rangers who are off to more of an expansion-like start at 3-7-2. They will again try to start skating in the right direction Tuesday night at the Garden. Vegas will complete an Islanders-Rangers back-to-back set, and the first meeting against the Rangers will come amid growing speculation over the job security of coach Alain Vigneault.
“Any time you’re struggling, obviously those questions are being raised,” Staal said about a possible coaching change or players being traded if this doesn’t turn quickly. “For us, we have to just start winning hockey games, start playing better individually and as a team, get that focus on your first shift.”
Indeed, the recurring theme has been slow starts. But the Rangers put an exclamation point on that in Saturday’s 5-4 loss at Montreal, getting outscored 3-0 and outshot 19-2 in the first period. Vigneault ripped their “execution” and “compete level.”
“It’s obviously a mental thing going into it,” Staal said of the repeated bad beginnings. “We’re just not in the right frame of mind to start the game and it’s causing us to get outplayed. We’re giving up some goals and we’re playing from behind a lot.”
Staal spoke of the need for a more desperate mindset from the opening faceoff. Said Rick Nash: “It’s too hard to come back” and win.
“We’re trying to stay positive, but we know the urgency is here,” Nash said. “We’ve got to be better and put a full 60 minutes together.”
Better play from Ryan McDonagh and Henrik Lundqvist would help.
“I do expect more from Ryan both offensively and defensively,” Vigneault said. “I know he’s got more to give.”
Vigneault said goalie coach Benoit Allaire has addressed “a couple of technical things” the past few days with Lundqvist, who didn’t start the last two games.
“I think everybody understands their role,” Lundqvist said. “Mine is to stop pucks and try to make a difference when the team needs me.”
The Rangers really need more from everyone.
“I’ve been through a few of these [challenging times] before,” Vigneault said. “I think it only makes you better and it only makes the team better.”