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Hartnett: With Nash’s Return On Horizon, Rangers Must Take Play To New Level

Star Winger Nash Expected To Return To Rangers’ Lineup On Tuesday
Rick Nash (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)

Rick Nash (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)

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‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns

On Sunday night, Alain Vigneault’s Rangers regressed into John Tortorella’s most snake-bitten version of Rangers past in front of a frustrated Madison Square Garden crowd that  implored the Blueshirts to simplify their game by shooting the puck with greater frequency.

After the 1-0 shutout loss, Vigneault’s stare resembled Tortorella’s stern gaze when he took the podium. The usually gregarious head coach was in a dour, serious mood after the Los Angeles Kings blanked the Rangers.

Vigneault had difficulty hiding his emotions. It was obvious for all to see that he was fed up with the Rangers’ unsatisfactory level of execution.

“I’m disappointed in a little bit of our execution with the puck,” Vigneault said. “Didn’t manage it as well as I think we can, but not disappointed with the effort that the group put out. We played against a real good team. It was a man’s game out on the ice, there wasn’t a lot of room and our guys showed up. We tried real hard.”

The Rangers certainly had their share of chances, outshooting the Los Angeles Kings, 37-30. What the Rangers lacked was a cutting edge, especially on their power play. You would have expected the Blueshirts to chip in a couple of goals past Kings netminder Ben Scrivens, given the Rangers’ five power-play chances, 5:10 of consecutive power-play time and 51 seconds of 5-on-3 time. The Garden horn only sounded once with 2:41 remaining in the third period. Dominic Moore’s kicked-in goal was ultimately disallowed after review.

“We got about 50 seconds of 5-on-3 work there and we didn’t connect,” Vigneault said. “Our execution might have been a bit off. But we had the right ideas, and the right things we were trying to do were there. Tonight we just couldn’t get it done.”

RANGERS MUST PROVE THEY’RE BETTER THAN AN ORDINARY .500 TEAM

Similar to Tortorella’s “Black and Blueshirt” teams of yesteryear, the Rangers successfully traded physical blows with the heavyweight Los Angeles Kings, but couldn’t squeeze out a positive result on the scoreboard. After the loss, the Blueshirts’ record stands at the purest definition of ordinary at 10-10-0.

Most jarring to Rangers fans was an inexcusable mistake from Mats Zuccarello. The pint-sized winger declined a clear shooting opportunity on a 3-on-1 shorthanded rush during the second period. Zuccarello did not appear in the Rangers’ locker room following the game to explain his unusual decision to dish off to a teammate.

“He’s going against the goaltender and he decides of pass the puck?” Vigneault said. “Some nights, some of those decisions aren’t the right ones. Tonight was one of those.”

OUTSTANDING AND ACROBATIC LUNDQVIST DESERVES BETTER

One player who wasn’t ordinary was sensational Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist, whose personal 2013-14 record fell to 6-8-0. It’s a statistic that does not match the oustanding play of Lundqvist, who made flurry after flurry of acrobatic saves. Lundqvist was only deceived by a flukey deflection goal by Tyler Toffoli that glanced off the skate of Rangers defenseman Anton Stralman at 1:23 into the second period.

Lundqvist referred to Toffoli’s goal as a “stupid goal.”

As the Rangers took the ice for the third period, the MSG sound system blasted Swedish House Mafia’s “Save The World.” Well, the 31-year-old Swede in net did everything within his power to be a superhero on Sunday night.

“As a goalie, that’s all you can do, give the team a chance to win,” Lundqvist said. “I felt I was playing my game. You’re just hoping for a goal there — to feel that you’re making a difference with the saves out there, but it’s not enough. You just have to move on.”

The Rangers have scored a below-standard total of three goals as a team in their past three games, only earning a 1-0 victory in Montreal on Saturday night while backup Cam Talbot started in net. Lundqvist was on the losing end of the two defeats against New Jersey and Los Angeles that sandwiched Talbot’s first career shutout in Montreal.

ASSISTANT COACH ARNIEL DROPS HINT, EXPECT NASH TO RETURN TO LINEUP ON TUESDAY

Vigneault was not available for Sunday’s pregame chat with the media. Assistant coach Scott Arniel filled in and was quizzed about the status of star winger Rick Nash.

Nash has not suited up for the Rangers since suffering a concussion in San Jose on October 8. The 29-year-old winger has skated for nine consecutive days.

Arniel indicated that Nash holds the power on whether he’ll makes his return to the Rangers’ lineup on Tuesday against the Boston Bruins at Madison Square Garden.

“With him, it’s just everyday, we’ll see how it goes,” Arniel said. “He’s the one that kind of tells us where he’s at. He’s the one that knows his body best. If he says he’s ready to go Tuesday, that’s great for us, and if he needs more days, then we’ll simply have to be cautious.”

Arniel also suggested that the Rangers’ forward lines could undergo changes, though he said he was pleased with the Blueshirts’ overall chemistry before Sunday’s defeat.

“Obviously, Nash is coming back, so there’s going to be some changes,” Arniel said. “We really like the way that guys are starting to play together.

The Rangers do not have a Monday practice scheduled, so the soonest we’ll learn of an update on Nash would be at Tuesday’s gameday skate.

Lundqvist is certainly in need of a boost. He’s doing everything possible to win games for the Blueshirts. When healthy, Nash’s game-changing abilities, goalscoring instincts and remarkable package of natural speed and pure strength makes a huge difference for the Rangers. He was just short of a point-per-game output during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, notching 42 points in 44 games.

Nash’s impending return will immediately give the Rangers a stronger scoring balance across their top three lines, allowing third-line center Derek Brassard to finally be paired with a finisher rather than two grunt workers in Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett. Most importantly, Nash will help ease the burden off Lundqvist’s back once his name is penciled into Vigneault’s lineup.

Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.

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