A scout from an Eastern Conference rival summarized the Rangers as a talented, underachieving team needing both confidence and leadership.
“My expectations for the team are more than what they are producing right now,” the scout told Metro New York during the first intermission of the Rangers 4-1 loss to Nashville Tuesday night at the Garden. “Things just aren’t coming together for them right now.”
The Rangers have lost the first three games of a franchise-record nine-game homestand and fell to 15-16-1.
The Rangers appear to be caught betwixt and between, possessing neither enough quality depth to play the high-end skill game favored by general manager Glen Sather and head coach Alain Vigneault, nor physically imposing enough to enforce their will, the addition of Arron Asham to the lineup from AHL Hartford notwithstanding.
Facing a team that had lost five in a row, the Rangers spotted Nashville the game’s first two goals in a first period that saw captain Ryan Callahan lost for the game with a sprained knee, and surrender a third-period marker which essentially decided the game.
Rick Nash scored the Rangers’ lone goal. Nash finished a tic-tac-toe passing sequence with Derick Brassard and Brad Richards with his sixth goal of the season and his 600th NHL point 6:58 into the second period to cut the deficit to 2-1.
According to the scout, the Rangers problems are systemic in nature.
“It’s throughout the lineup; it’s not one or two guys. They just look like the chemistry or something isn’t right, right now,” the scout said. “I would think most people think they are underachieving a little bit right now, and that’s from the goaltender out.”
By any statistical measure, and by his own words, Henrik Lundqvist has not played up to his usual standard. He entered last night’s match with a 9-12-1 record, 2.58 goals against average and .914 save percentage in 23 games.
The scout believes Lundqvist’s issue is mental instead of technical.
“I’m used to Henrik Lundqvist. You watch him play, you watch someone playing with a lot of confidence, competing and battling,” the scout said. “For me right now, his body language isn’t what I’m used to seeing. So you can tell he’s fighting it a little bit.”
With 50 games remaining this season and in a weak Eastern Conference, there is time for the Rangers to get the ship righted. But time is of the essence.
“They have the makeup of a good team. They have a pretty solid defense, a lot of good players up front,” the scout said. “There’s a lot of good guys in this lineup, a lot of guys who can score, a lot of guys who know how to play defense and there’s some guys who know how to bump and grind and work their tails off. I’ve seen a lot of these players play with character over the years.
“I’ve seen a couple games where they’ve looked really good, where things have come together. I think guys like [Mats] Zuccarello started really [well]. I think [Chris] Kreider has been a real pleasant surprise. Ryan McDonagh, for me, has been their best player all year long. But there a few guys I don’t think have played up to the expectations of their management or myself [or] other people [had].”
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.