It was a few, short moments after the measuring stick game had concluded in a most painful fashion, and Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault was emphasizing positives.
The Rangers had dropped a 4-3 overtime decision to the NHL-best Capitals Saturday afternoon at the Garden, a game in which the Rangers overcame a 2-0 deficit in the third only to see Nicklas Backstrom score the tying goal with six seconds left in regulation and Alex Ovechkin pot the game-winner—his second of the game and the 499th of his career—1:25 into overtime.
What could have been two points for the Blueshirts ended up being one. And yet, Vigneault opted to espouse a macro viewpoint instead of the micro.
“This is more about taking a step forward as a team,” Vigneault said.“We battled back from a two-goal deficit against one of the best defensive teams in the league and one of the goaltenders who has made it hard on a lot of teams.We were real close to getting it done.
“I think we took a step in the right direction.”
Vigneault’s words echoed those he has offered since the NHL resumed games following Christmas break. The Rangers are 2-2-1 in the five games they’ve played since the three day break against Nashville, Tampa Bay, Florida, Dallas and the Capitals.
The Rangers have outscored opponents 17-16 in the five games, outshot their opponents in three games, and out-attempted opponents in four games.
In all, the Rangers have completed a five-game window in which they finished with a 293-258 advantage in total attempted shots and a 150-131 advantage in shots on goal.
As they enter a stretch which includes Monday’s home date against the Bruins—the first since a Black Friday game in which Matt Beleskey’s open-ice hit left Derek Stepan with two broken ribs—and road trips to Barclays Center, Philadelphia and Washington for Metropolitan Division showdowns at the Islanders, Flyers and Capitals, the team’s party line is to believe they are generating positive traction for the first time since late November.
“We are building,” Henrik Lundqvist said earlier this month. “We are starting to play the Rangers hockey we need to play to have success. Hopefully we are moving in the right direction.”
Still, make no mistake, organizational decision makers are acutely aware of where the team is in regards to the standings and its makeup. Following the loss to Washington, the Rangers are 22-14-5 and are in second place in the Metropolitan Division. Even though the Rangers and Islanders both have 49 points, the Rangers have two more regulation and overtime wins, and one fewer loss.
Benefitting a middling team, personnel changes could be made leading up to the Feb. 29 trade deadline. One trade has already been consummated, as Emerson Etem was dealt to Vancouver Friday for AHL winger Nicklas Jensen.
“It’s clear Emerson got off to a tough start,” GM Jeff Gorton said. “It goes back to training camp, really, where it didn’t seem to be a fit, so, that’s why at this point we just thought it was best for us to give him another spot to go to.”