Rangers

Hartnett: The Rangers On The Brink Of A Collapse? Not So Fast

Struggling St. Louis Feeling The Pressure, But He's Simply Too Good At This Game
Head coach Alain Vigneault of the New York Rangers (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Head coach Alain Vigneault of the New York Rangers (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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

Sunday’s deflating 1-0 defeat to San Jose might lead Rangers fans to the conclusion that their team is teetering on the edge of a cliff — as in rapidly descending toward a non-playoff finish.

It’s understandable why some fans are fearing the worst. The Rangers are currently holding the final wild card spot and are being pushed hard by Washington, Detroit and the rival Devils.

The Rangers will be facing a tough week, starting with Ottawa on Tuesday at Canadian Tire Centre. Although the Senators have lost five of six, they certainly consider themselves a playoff contender and have been boosted by the acquisition of playmaking winger Ales Hemsky. Since pulling on a Ottawa sweater, Hemsky has scored one goal and racked up six assists in five games.

Later in the week the Rangers will lock horns with Columbus and New Jersey in back-to-back days. As of Monday, the Blue Jackets have won six of eight and are tied with the Rangers at 76 points, but own the tiebreaker due to having two games in hand.

Since acquiescing to Rick Nash’s trade demand and sending the star winger to New York, Columbus has taken on the persona of a pesky and opportunistic team. The youthful Jackets are maturing and trending in the right direction. Columbus only missed out on last season’s playoffs due to a tiebreaker. Expect the Jackets to fight for a playoff spot to the bitter end.

Same goes for the Devils. New Jersey is right in the thick of the playoff race and only trails the Rangers by five points with a game in hand. That’s been largely due to veteran Czech wingers Jaromir Jagr and Patrik Elias, and a recent goal surge from Adam Henrique.

Head coach Pete DeBoer has helped put the Devils in a position to make a run at the postseason by constantly deflected pressure, adversity and criticism.

Needless to say, it would be a dream scenario for Devils fans to see their team leapfrog the Blueshirts in the final days of the regular season.

MARCH MADNESS?

The Rangers need to avoid March madness and April agony. They have 13 games to lock down a playoff spot. and that’s with an abundance of star power and the world’s best goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist.

The Rangers have the tools and the talent. It would be an enormous letdown should a group of this caliber end up golfing or vacationing in mid-April.

It’s just a matter of whether head coach Alain Vigneault can mesh the talent up front into four cohesive lines. The departure of former captain Ryan Callahan has thrown the Rangers’ line chemistry out of whack. While Callahan wasn’t playing his best hockey during his final days in New York, the Rangers’ four lines had familiarity and consistency prior to the March 5 trade deadline.

Since that point, Vigneault has mixed and matched his lines to little avail and has tried everything possible to accommodate a superstar addition that has yet to deliver.

ST. LOUIS SLUMPING

Scoring ace Martin St. Louis has yet to get going.

St. Louis was an absent figure on Sunday. In 20:58 of ice time, the 2004 Hart Trophy winner did not attempt a shot, let alone get one on net. In seven games as a Ranger, St. Louis has just two assists. That’s nowhere near the production level expected from the reigning Art Ross Trophy winner.

But you have to figure it will be very difficult for opponents to hold down a star of St. Louis’ quality for long.

St. Louis is not an ordinary 38-year-old. He is not a once-great player whose talents are fading. But the fact remains the diminutive winger will have to do some heavy lifting and soon to ensure the Rangers’ passage into the playoffs.

“Of course there’s pressure,” St. Louis told reporters on Monday. “I knew it would be hard, but there’s no time to feel sorry. You have to be a big boy.”

CONTROVERSIAL VIDEO REVIEW CAUSES A STIR AT MSG

Luck was not on the Rangers’ side on Sunday when Carl Hagelin appeared to score on a wraparound attempt with less than four minutes remaining in the second period. One magnified replay on the Gardenvision scoreboard clearly showed the puck crossing the line.

Much to the anger of the crowd, the original no-goal ruling was upheld as video evidence was deemed inconclusive.

Hagelin felt it was an obvious goal, though he said he understood why it was not awarded.

“I just saw his pad was pretty deep in the net, Pouliot saw the puck from above, and he saw the puck was in,” Hagelin said. “I just saw the video review — it’s pretty obvious that it was in. But in all fairness, the refs couldn’t see the puck. That was the problem. Camera couldn’t get a hold of the puck. If the ref would’ve been closer right away — he would have been able to see the puck, but he was a little bit behind the goalie. It was just unlucky.”

Here’s the official explanation from the NHL:

“At 16:45 of the second period in the San Jose Sharks/New York Rangers game, the Situation Room initiated video review to further examine Carl Hagelin’s wraparound attempt on the San Jose net. No camera angles provided to the Situation Room provided a clear image of the puck completely across the goal line. As a result, video review was inconclusive, therefore the referee’s call on the ice stands — no goal New York Rangers.”

IS THE GLASS HALF FULL OR HALF EMPTY?

Despite being shut out on Sunday, Rangers’ alternate captain Brad Richards said the Blueshirts were creating more good looks and more consistent traffic.

He said that kind of effort is something the Blueshirts can build on.

“We came out with a lot of jump. We had a lot of chances, but still need more,” Richards said. “The only thing we can do is try and figure out how to get more, more traffic, but I mean we had some looks that (Niemi) saved or we just missed. Right now, it seems like that’s just the way it is, but we gave ourselves a lot more looks than the last three games where we weren’t creating much at all. That’s more our game. Still a lot of games left and we have to take that, build on that effort, and get right back to work.”

The Rangers tested Antti Niemi with 41 shots and the Sharks blocked 22 more. Richards said give the San Jose goalie his due.

“I think he probably won them that hockey game,” Richards said.

The Rangers also kept the Sharks from circling Lundqvist’s net. Vigneault credited his team for limiting San Jose’s potent offense.

“They followed the plan,” Vigneault said. “They did what they had to do defensively, I thought, to keep that team as checked as good as I thought we could. They have three lines that can score and defense that can join the rush. I thought defensively we did what we had to do and offensively we did everything but finish.”

When you combine defensive organization with consistent pressure on the opposing goalie, you have something encouraging. That’s why the Rangers’ glass is half full and not half empty.

Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey

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