By Sean Hartnett
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The Rangers got stuffed by the Montreal Canadiens a day before Thanksgiving. Wednesday’s 5-1 defeat on home ice should serve as a wake-up call for a team that hasn’t played as well as their Metropolitan Division-leading 16-4-2 record indicates.
Perhaps, a shock to the system is what the Rangers truly needed. They were getting away with victories while gifting turnovers to the opposition, struggling in the possession game and at times lacking the required defensive focus.
“I think we got a little bit rattled at times and frustrated with ourselves because of the pressure they’re putting on us, forcing us into some giveaways,” captain Ryan McDonagh said following the lopsided defeat. “That’s uncharacteristic of us but at the same time that’s a good team and they’re playing really well right now and you’ve got to give them some credit, too. But ultimately we want to control our destiny, control the puck a little bit better when we have it.”
Discombobulated is how alternate captain Dan Girardi described the Blueshirts’ current level of execution.
“We are stretched out — the forwards and the defensemen are too far apart,” Girardi said. “We are moving pucks up and no one is there. The forwards are trying to move it to us and we are too far back. We are very out of sync out there and that is very unlike us. Even though over the last little bit, we haven’t been playing the best, but we’ve been getting the wins. It’s never been like this where we are a step behind, a little in between, indecisive – and it was like that all over the ice.
“We have to figure out how we can correct that and we get right back at it,” Girardi added. “We have a lot of hockey coming up in the next week and we have to get our A-game back here and get it going.”
Now’s the time for a post-Thanksgiving resolution. The Rangers will have a chance to fine-tune their game in front of a national audience when they lock horns with the Boston Bruins at 1 p.m. Friday in what the league is dubbing as “The Thanksgiving Showdown.”
As Girardi mentioned, the schedule turns fast and furious as November turns to December. Starting with Friday’s visit to TD Garden, the Rangers will play six games over a span of 10 days. Aside from Wednesday’s drubbing, the Blueshirts have gotten exceptional goaltending from Hart Trophy frontrunner Henrik Lundqvist and backup Antti Raanta. The duo has backstopped the Rangers to a league-best 1.91 goals-against average.
While some fans and analytically-minded pundits have been predicting a regression, the Rangers’ fate lies in their own hands. They’re a team capable of executing far better than they have. Through 22 games, they are tied for the fourth-fewest shots per game at 28.1 and tied for the fourth-most shots against per game at 31.4. Their minus-152 shot-attempt differential ranks third-worst in the league.
A common trait of Rangers teams coached by Alain Vigneault is an ability to correct themselves quickly. This is an honest group with strong leadership and a dressing room full of characters that will strive to get things right. They know what’s at stake. The second-place Washington Capitals are rolling, having won three straight and are in the midst of a 7-2-1 run. Washington sits only three points behind the Blueshirts in the Metro and has played one less game.
As Girardi implored, it’s time for the Rangers to get back to their A-game and it’s going to have to start on Friday.
Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey