The last thing a team struggling to find its identity needs is a nationally-televised match against one of the NHL’s pre-eminent teams.
That is exactly what beckons for the 3-3-3 Rangers, when they welcome the Sharks to the new MSG tonight. San Jose has won the first five games of its six-game road trip, including a 3-2 come-from-behind overtime win on the Island Saturday night. The Sharks have allowed the third-fewest goals in the league.
“They’re playing at home. From what I understand, they lost [Saturday afternoon],” Todd McLellan said of the Rangers after the win at the Nassau Coliseum Saturday night. “I don’t think they’ll be a happy group.
“We’re going to have to work against that team.”
For a group that prided itself on its collective work ethic last year, the Rangers’ have not yet played a complete game in 2011-12.
Sustained forechecking has been replaced by a team attempting to play a skill game that it is ill-suited for.
Factor in a 38-35-11 mark at the Garden in the last 84 regular season games and you have a formula that leads to disappointment. Or as one fan disgustedly bellowed during the third period of Thursday night’s home opener, “Go back on the road.”
The Rangers have admitted that this season has not started in the fashion that any of them envisioned.
“We’ll just focus on playing [Saturday’s matinee against Ottawa],” Michael Del Zotto said after the Rangers’ 4-2 loss to Toronto. “Playing a full 60 minutes.”
They did not accomplish that. Saturday’s 5-4 shootout loss to the Senators was emblematic of the Rangers’ ills.
The Rangers had a 4-1 lead in the third period before Ottawa scored three times over a span of 8:08 to tie the game. When Erik Christensen, Brad Richards and Wojtek Wolski couldn’t solve Craig Anderson in the one-on-one portion of the game, coupled with Milan Michalek’s backhander between Henrik Lundqvist’s pad and glove, the collapse was complete.
John Tortorella acknowledged the negatives, but chose to focus on the positives.
“I thought there were signs of a number of players beginning to play their game. We played in spurts again — longer spurts than we have played. I’m not dwelling on the bad stuff,” Tortorella said after the stunning loss. “There was some bad stuff, obviously, that is something we have to continue to chip away at.”
Follow NHL beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.