Any chance the Rangers have of making something of this season will rapidly descend into an abyss if performances like Saturday become more prevalent.
They came out of their bye week with a home matinee against the Islanders completely lacking in desire and focus, in a seemingly never-ending state of defensive disarray as they were embarrassed by the Isles, 7-2, in what was even worse than the efforts the Blueshirts were putting forth in the two weeks before the break.
“We’ve had guys at times playing the way we need to play, but for us to be successful we need everybody buying in. Right now, we don’t want it,” Ryan McDonagh said after the Rangers had what seemed like a longer-than-usual locker-room discussion.
Teams behind the Rangers (22-16-5) are improving and gaining ground, which includes the Penguins team they hit the road to face Sunday night. The Blueshirts are 3-4-2 in their last nine and without a regulation win since Dec. 19.
On whether performances like Saturday’s make him question what he has, Alain Vigneault said, “I think in the past a lot of players have proven that they’ve been able to do it. But I’m more in it for, what are you doing for me right now? As a group here we need to step up.”
That message differs from the one Vigneault delivered after Friday’s practice, when he said he believed in his core group which has a history of willing to do what it takes to win.
Shane Prince celebrates his first-period tally as the Islanders were off to the races Saturday.
(Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)
But it wouldn’t be a surprise if the coach’s mindset shifted after witnessing his players make inexplicable mistakes over and over, constantly gifting the speedy Islanders (22-18-4) odd-man rushes as if the neutral zone was a welcome mat.
Their reads were off and there was no commitment to checking. Scintillating Isles rookie Matthew Barzal had five points (two goals, three assists,) and the trio of Barzal, Jordan Eberle (four assist) and Anthony Beauvillier (two goals, assist) victimized the Rangers’ top line of Mika Zibanejad, Mats Zuccarello and J.T. Miller all afternoon.
“I got three of my top players there and they were dominated the whole game,” Vigneault said.
Things fell apart for the Rangers early in the second period, when they allowed three goals in the span of 6:14, the first of which came 37 seconds on Barzal’s backhander.
Barzal scored again at 4:11 when he beat Brady Skjei up the ice in transition and jammed in his own rebound to put the Islanders up by three. Once Anthony Beauvillier scored his second of the game at 6:51, Ondrej Pavelec was yanked for Henrik Lundqvist having given up five goals on 20 shots.
The Islanders chase Rangers backup goalie Ondrej Pavelec from the game.
It was Skjei who made the poor decision of pinching late in the first period which left acres of space for Shane Prince, whose goal at 16:25 put the Isles back ahead 2-1. That was exactly two minutes after a power-play goal from Kevin Hayes, who logged 16:53 after Vigneault on Friday said Hayes was 50-50 at best to play because of a lower-body injury suffered on Sunday.
“It’s up to the guys in here,” Rick Nash said. “The coaches are gonna put the best game plan forward. They give us the most information every single night on how to win a game. One of the plans tonight was, we can’t give into their speed, turn over the puck and give up odd-man rushes. So it’s up to the players in here to put the game plan forward.”
This is not the kind of game the Rangers can just flush away and think of as a one-off. They had a lot to examine and reflect upon heading into Sunday night.
“Watch your shifts and ask yourself if you’re doing whatever you can to help the team win,” McDonagh said. “Are you leaving your line-mates out to dry? Our goalie? I mean, how many looks are we gonna give them throughout a game? That’s unacceptable.”