By Sean Hartnett
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The Rangers came out flat and got exactly what they deserved.
Outworked and out executed for 60 minutes by the visiting Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday, a 4-1 defeat was a fitting indictment of the Rangers’ worst performance of the 2016-17 season.
It was a game that should have been a gimme for the Blueshirts. The NHL’s 28th-ranked team in the standings, the Sabres were missing Ryan O’Reilly, Johan Larsson, Dmitry Kulikov, Josh Gorges, and Tyler Ennis. Given their opponent’s depth issues, the Rangers should have dictated play and taken advantage of matchup vulnerabilities. Yet, they were the ones who failed at sustaining offensive zone time and went long stretches without shots on goal.
The Rangers did not bring their skating legs or the required level of execution. They struggled to connect passes, were slow to loose pucks and coasted back on defense. Worryingly, there wasn’t any real push-back to match the Sabres’ desperation.
“It took us half a period to get a shot on goal,” captain Ryan McDonagh said. “They outworked us there in the first, there’s no question about it. There’s no excuse for that. We owe it to ourselves as players, to our linemates and d-pairs to prepare ourselves for every game, to execute, to give ourselves a chance. For whatever reason we didn’t do that tonight. It’s happened here too many times in the stretch and you know we’re just about at the halfway point of the season, so if we don’t find a way to bring that intensity and execution night in and night out, we’re going to see ourselves fall off. Hopefully, this is a lesson learned and a hard turning point for us.”
Head coach Alain Vigneault admitted that his men weren’t ready to answer the bell.
“There’s no doubt we didn’t do a good enough job in preparing our team for tonight’s game,” Vigneault said. “I mentioned it many times. There are no easy games in this league. We weren’t ready when the game started, our execution was nonexistent. We didn’t have a ‘D’ that could make a pass, and our compete level was not good enough. I haven’t said this very often about this group since I’ve been here, but this was a very bad game where we got outworked badly, and we’re going to need to respond here.”
It was the kind of night where you just have to burn the tapes and move on. A quick turnaround in the form of Wednesday’s game in Philadelphia could be the elixir needed to wake up the Blueshirts.
“You should not overanalyze things,” goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said after the game. “We know what we have to do playing tomorrow against a really good team playing at home. There’s always a lot of energy in that building, so a few corrections here and we’ll be ready to battle tomorrow.”
“They’re going to put on a good test for us,” McDonagh said of the Flyers. “They played really well at home and same way if we come out like this we’re going to get embarrassed once again. I hope as a group we really take this to heart, be professional about it, get yourself ready to play, to cover and get your mind in the right state of mind to go out there and do what’s needed of you.”
The lethargy and lack of basic execution cannot be repeated by the Rangers, especially against a team that always saviors these rivalry matchups. You know the Flyers are going to defend their home ice with pride and be backed by the league’s most intimidating fans.
After Tuesday’s debacle, the Rangers at the very least owe their fans complete urgency when they hit the ice in Philly.
Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey