‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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If you’re not a skilled team or a physical team, what are you? The answer is a blindingly mediocre team.
Right now, the 15-15-1 Rangers are lacking any sliver of identity under head coach Alain Vigneault. It wasn’t very long ago that this team played impassioned, selfless, “all-for-the-cause” hockey under former head coach John Tortorella.
Torts is not coming back to kick and scream the Blueshirts into life. Neither is his blood-and-guts style of hockey returning. The current Rangers are not built to be a bruising, physically-dominant group.
Nor is Vigneault demanding the Rangers to suddenly transform into a bunch of grinding warriors. All he’s asking for is the right compete level and a focused mentality needed to play his brand of eye-pleasing, expressive, intelligent, high-percentage brand of hockey.
The Rangers played the most flat, lifeless hockey possible on Sunday against the Washington Capitals and they got burned for it.
After the 4-1 defeat, the Rangers held a lengthy, closed-door players-only meeting. Vigneault wasn’t impressed. As they say, talk is cheap. Actions are what matter.
“You can talk all you want; you have to have those words become actions on the ice and the right kind of actions,” Vigneault said during his postgame press conference. “Right now we are a .500 hockey team. When the other team scores a goal we don’t seem to have much of a push. I firmly believe this group is much better than that, but we are not showing it.
“We can talk all we want behind closed doors, but it’s up to everybody to find it.”
Right now, the Rangers are without firepower or bite. They’re playing complacent hockey — letting games and points get away from them.
It’s clear that Vigneault wants to mold the Rangers into a skilled team capable of making crisp passes and executing his offensive concepts.
“With the personnel we have right now, we need to play a smart, high-percentage, good puck-movement game,” Vigneault said. “If we do that, we can be very effective. That’s the type of personnel we have at this time.”
The Rangers are a shocking 5-7-1 at home. Madison Square Garden should be their fortress. They have seven consecutive games remaining at the Garden before hitting the road.
This team needs to create a home-ice advantage and give the fans something to grasp onto and get excited about. They owe it to themselves, their coach and the paying customers to dig themselves out of mediocrity.
“We have to respond. This is not good enough at home,” Ryan Callahan said. “We have a long homestand, and now it takes the guys in here to respond and be better. It starts Tuesday night and that’s how we are looking at this. We have a challenge in front of us and now we have to answer it.”
It all starts on Tuesday against Nashville. The Rangers better find a way to turn things around, otherwise general manager Glen Sather will be forced to make some tough decisions to acquire a fresh batch of players capable of executing Vigneault’s system.
Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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