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The New York Rangers (44 points) are in a 4-10-2 plummet after Monday night’s loss to the Nashville Predators.
If they squint hard enough, they can see the Washington Capitals waving goodbye as they run away with the Metropolitan Division. Over their collective shoulders are the New York Islanders (43 points) in third place, with the New Jersey Devils (39 points) and Pittsburgh Penguins (37) within striking distance.
There’s no panic in the words of the players, but the fans would like to see some urgency – if not from the Rangers, then from Rangers management, which can’t look at the way this team has played through 37 games and think it’s anything but a playoff elimination waiting to happen.
They’re 28th in the NHL in Corsi percentage at 46.7 percent, ahead of only Ottawa and Colorado. Their defense has hung Henrik Lundqvist out to dry like a used bathing suit on a Marriott balcony. They thrived on being one of the better counter-punch teams in the NHL for the first two months of the season, before they went counter-punchless.
But as Henrik Lundqvist, pulled again Monday night, said of the loss to the Preds: “We did a lot of good things. It was just a few minutes in the third, we get hurt big time. It’s been the case in too many games now and it’s extremely disappointing and frustrating."
Pat Leonard of the NY Daily News encapsulated what we’ve seen from the Rangers in the last month, writing about their 5-3 loss to the Nashville Predators on Monday:
Vigneault’s team resides in a dark place where mistakes regularly snowball into catastrophes. Derick Brassard’s “totally unnecessary” roughing penalty on Predators forward Miikka Salomaki (assist), in Vigneault’s words, led to Forsberg’s first-period goal. Kevin Hayes’ now-patented play – a turnover followed by failing to get back on defense – gave Neal the go-ahead goal at 13:48 of the second.
The Rangers continue to exhibit one of the most glaring weaknesses of a fragile team: When something goes bad, multiple things seem to go bad. The Rangers, trailing 2-1, caught a break when Filip Forsberg’s apparent goal at 5:18 of the third period was overruled via a coach’s challenge with Craig Smith in the paint interfering with Henrik Lundqvist. But the Predators still took a 3-1 lead at 7:34 and, in short order, that became a 5-1 deficit. The Rangers, playing for the first time since Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime win over the Ducks, got off to a sluggish start as they found their legs but were playing better by the end of the first period and even better still in the second period. But it unraveled so quickly in the third period and that’s just something that doesn’t happen with this alarming frequency to good teams.
Snowballs turning into avalanches. Two-goal deficits ballooning to four-goal holes in a blink. Such are the Rangers at the moment.
“Fragile” is a good term, too. The Rangers are still one of the best closers in sports: 14-0-0 when leading after two periods.
When trailing after two periods this season? They’re 0-10-1, one of only five teams that haven’t rallied for a win yet this season. (The others? Colorado, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Toronto.)
The Rangers remain a team that, when they’re on, can look like a champion. Problem is that they’ve been “on” for about 10 minutes a game over the last month. Otherwise, they’re all waiting for that snowball to start tumbling down the mountainside.
Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at email@example.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.