By Sean Hartnett
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Having lost three of their last four games and about to face three opponents in four nights, the Rangers called up fresh bodies from minor-league Hartford in the form of rugged winger Tanner Glass and depth defenseman Steven Kampfer.
The return of Glass is an interesting call. Lately, the Rangers have been losing games because of poor execution and have spent too much time defending in their own end. The Rangers have thrived throughout much of the season because they can roll four lightning-fast lines that are each capable of establishing offensive zone time.
Given Glass’ well-documented possession struggles and limited offensive skill set, he’s not the kind of forward who can aid that style of play. It seems head coach Alain Vigneault is looking to experiment with a Plan B after seeing his team outmuscled and outworked by the visiting Montreal Canadiens at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.
“We had no execution,” an irritated Vigneault said after the 4-1 defeat. “We couldn’t make a pass tonight. That’s all about individual preparation and going out there and getting yourself ready to execute. We didn’t win a lot of puck battles, and that’s on you to be ready and to compete for pucks. We didn’t win a lot, and that’s why we spent a lot of time in our zone. When we were in our zone, we couldn’t make a 10-foot pass.”
Franchise goaltender Henrik Lundqvist called for the Rangers to get back to competing with a desperate, urgent mindset.
“It’s important right now not to focus too much on structure or details,” Lundqvist said. “It’s the mindset to will yourself to win the battles all over the ice. I think this game is all about battles, and I think that’s been the biggest difference in our last four games – winning the battles all over the ice, in front of the net, along the boards. Then I need to come up with the big save when I have to. Today was not enough against a good team and a great goaltender. But I think for me, for the team, it’s a mindset. It doesn’t matter what we decide how to play, the tactics. It’s just the will. We need to have more desperation than the other team.”
Though Glass possesses scant offensive ability and his tendency to play the body goes against what the Rangers have been trying to accomplish with four-line skill, the one thing he brings consistently is a high compete level. That’s something the Rangers haven’t had much of lately. They looked lethargic against the Canadiens and were lucky to leave TD Garden with a victory after a poor showing last Thursday.
“Tanner’s been playing hard. He’s been playing well there,” Vigneault said following Sunday’s practice. “I think right now, you bring in Tanner and Kampf, and it gives you a little bit more depth.
“At this time of the year, all teams play hard and play harder,” Vigneault continued. “Teams are playing hard and playing tight. There’s not a lot of room. You’ve got to compete, and you’ve got to battle hard, and you’ve got to battle hard for puck battles. You’ve got to win your share. I do think that in the last couple of games there, in those puck-battle situations, we could have been better. So this gives us a little bit more flexibility as far as our lineup decisions.”
Vigneault did not reveal on Sunday whether Glass would go straight into the lineup against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday. He said he would be making the decision on his plane ride down to Tampa. Glass and Kampfer did not arrive in time to practice with teammates. Vigneault will not address the media until 5:30 p.m. Monday at Amalie Arena.
“I’m going to contemplate that on the way down, and we’ll figure it out,” Vigneault said.
My gut feeling is Glass will dress in Tampa because Vigneault wants to show some of his underperformers that they need to bring the right compete level to stay in the lineup. While Glass might be minor-league talent at this stage of his career, he can at least raise the bar by showing teammates what major-league effort looks like.
Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey