GREENBURGH, N.Y. - This was not the way that Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh -- or for that matter, coach Alain Vigneault -- had envisioned the defenseman's return from a separated left shoulder.
In the past three games, McDonagh has three assists, but something has been missing. The pace has been off, the reads slower, the intensity scattered. In short, he hasn't reclaimed his All-Star-caliber game, and is pressing, perhaps trying to make up for lost time.
"I expect a lot out of myself, this team expects a lot, these coaches . . . I play a lot of minutes. There's no excuse for me not to play the way I should," McDonagh said after practice Tuesday.
McDonagh, who was named captain Oct. 6, had 14 goals and 29 assists in 77 games last season and was dominant against opposing teams' top forwards. His performance this season has fallen short of that level.
McDonagh injured the same shoulder on a hit from Alex Burrows in the final minute of an April 1 game in Vancouver and sat out 16 days before the Stanley Cup playoffs began. He was 4-13-17 during the Rangers' run to the Stanley Cup Final.
"It's similar, for sure, anytime you miss games, you've got to find your game as fast as you can," he said. "Doesn't matter if it's the playoffs or right now, we're trying to get points to get up in the standings. I've got to not dwell so much on trying to find my game, just relax and use my legs and strength, go out and have a little fun."
McDonagh has yet to score a goal, and had just three assists in the nine games before he was injured, while logging more than 25 minutes per night. No one is reaching for the panic button, but McDonagh is a critical element to the team's success.
"I would say that he and I expect a lot more," Vigneault said. "We've all seen Ryan play the type of hockey that he can play: assertive, strong one on one, not casual going back for pucks . . . beating the first forechecker, getting it in the hands of the forwards, joining the rush. For whatever reason, it's taken a little while to find his rhythm. I think it's safe to say that we need him to play to his potential . . . If he does, we're going to win. If he doesn't, it's going to be a little harder."
Notes & quotes: Defenseman Dan Boyle, who missed the last three games with flu symptoms (the team believes it is not the mumps, which has sidelined Tanner Glass), did not skate Monday and might have more tests. "He's not feeling well," Vigneault said. "It's been three days now, so they're going to investigate a little more if he doesn't perk up today."