From all accounts it is still early in the season for the New York Rangers to not be called a playoff caliber team. Perhaps coming off a Stanley Cup Finals season will lead to plenty of expectations though there are expected to be bumps along the road getting back to the finals.
Though the expectations for the Rangers are not up to par, and after a 5-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning at Madison Square Garden Monday night there are valid thoughts at this juncture about being a .500 team. And there are more questions about playing consistent on the ice. From their perspective the Rangers are still looking for an identity.
Opposing the good teams are a test to that identity The Rangers discovered how good Tampa Bay is this season, a team with a 13-4-2 record and ahead of them in the Eastern Conference who have that consistency and identity. Martin St. Louis had five of the Rangers’ 11 shots on goal through the first two periods. The team was credited with 16 overall.
That, according to coach Alain Vigneault has to get better. It is only part of this identity crisis of establishing more consistency in their first 18 games.
“Other than the start to both periods everything in between was just a total disaster,” he said. Vigneault referred to a system that worked in Pittsburgh Saturday night, a game New York lost to the Penguins 3-2 in overtime. In that game the lines worked well as a unit when he put Rick Nash with Derek Stepan.
Chris Kreider worked well with the youngster Anthony Duclair, Derick Brassard and Mats Zucarello. St. Louis. Kevin Hayes and Carl Hagelin also had identity on the ice.
Against Tampa Bay nothing worked to plan.
“In nights we apply it,” Vigneault commented. “We apply consistency from shift to shift. Tonight we applied it at the start of the game We definitely have to as a group here find the solution to it because we are a .500 hockey team right now.”
He added about the 7-7-4 record, “A .500 mark does not get you into the playoffs.” And 18- games into the season does not dictate what will happen between now and mid April. Wednesday night at the Garden, the Rangers will try to get this system right against the Flyers a team they meet three times in the next two weeks.
The Flyers are one of those teams that the Rangers consider to be good. Right now they are the better team, and perhaps the consistency and finding that identity will come against them.
“I think everyone has to get better,” St. Louis said. “It starts with the guys logging a lot of minutes, me included. I have to be better. everyone has to be better. This is a tough loss. a tough night in the way we played. It’s nowhere where we have to play to give ourselves a chance.”
Added Dan Girardi, one of the many Rangers who could not figure a plan against the Lightning:”They are one of the top teams in the east overall. We have to figure it out real quick. We have some good games, we have some bad games. Our consistency is really off right now.”
The Rangers could not do what they wanted to do Monday night. “ We weren’t doing the things we were supposed to do,” Mark Staal said. “The next play wasn’t getting turned over. Have to be more consistent. Hopefully we can bring out our best against the Flyers.”
“To be in the race and to be on the right side of where you want to be, we have to be consistent,” Henrik Lundqvist said. He could not stop a goal from Ryan Callahan who was alongside him on the Rangers Stanley Cup final team last season.
It comes down to what Derek Stephan said and it’s simple: “Figure out how we gonna put sixty minute of good hockey together.” The Rangers will look to find that identity and consistency Wednesday night.