The Rangers are slipping at the wrong time.
"We're happy we got a point, but we're one sloppy hockey club," coach John Tortorella said after Friday night's 4-3 shootout loss to the Islanders. "Right now at this time of year, we've got to get out of it quickly."
With Monday afternoon's trade deadline approaching and the front office still interested in Columbus power forward Rick Nash and perhaps other deals, the Rangers haven't won in regulation in four games, their longest stretch of the season. They had a three-game stretch of 0-1-2 to open the regular season.
Nonetheless, the Rangers are leading the Eastern Conference with 82 points (38-15-6). They face the Sabres Saturday night at Madison Square Garden to conclude the 10th of 14 back-to-back games on the Rangers' schedule. They are 7-1-1 in the second game of those instances.
"It doesn't matter where we are in the standings when we play the Islanders here," Tortorella said of Nassau Coliseum. "It's always a crazy game. I'm happy we battled back, but as far as where we are mentally in some stages of the game, we need to be sharper."
The strong start that the Rangers dearly wanted didn't happen as the Islanders took a 2-0 lead in the first 8:42. But Marc Staal scored a power-play goal at 12:47 of the first period to cut the Islanders' lead in half.
Down 3-1, the Rangers erased a two-goal deficit for the second time this season (the other was against the Flyers in the Winter Classic) on goals by Marian Gaborik, his team-leading 28th, and Derek Stepan. But it wasn't enough to gain a critical second point.
"I was fighting it a little bit," said Martin Biron, who made 24 saves but has allowed at least three goals in each of his last four starts. "It's not exactly where I want it to be. As the game wore on, I was trusting my feet a little more."
So after a remarkable ride, the Rangers need a gut-check with 23 games remaining.
"It's a good place to have teams gunning for you when you're on top," Biron said. "Good teams, good players, play well when you're fighting adversity."
Notes & quotes: Henrik Lundqvist (28-12-4) is expected to start Saturday night at the Garden . . . The Rangers were 1-for-4 in the shootout. Gaborik scored and Ryan Callahan had the puck poked away by Evgeni Nabokov, who also stopped Brad Richards' backhander and John Mitchell to end it . . . Brian Boyle and Michael Del Zotto apparently were unaware of the rule that prohibits a player from assisting another who lost a stick. Del Zotto slid Boyle's stick toward him and was penalized at 6:29 of the second period. P.A. Parenteau converted on the power play. "Oh for God's sake, yes, he needs to know that rule," Tortorella said . . . The power play was 2-for-5, and Tortorella said he liked the work of Staal, who scored to cut the lead to 2-1, and Anton Stralman, who had an assist.