From all corners of the New York Rangers dressing room Sunday night, the message was the same.
A record of 6-2-2 after 10 games is nice, but work remains to be done in order for the 2015-16 edition to feel like their collective performance is where it needs to be.
“We went up and down,” Marc Staal said after the 4-1 win over the Flames at the Garden Sunday night, when asked to assess the state of the Rangers after the first 10 games. “It’s good to be winning games and getting points out of games [but] I think every day we still know we can improve and work on our game.”
Following the win over the free-falling Flames, the Rangers have won three of their last five games, and have recorded points in all five. As they enter a stretch of four days off until their next game–Friday night at the Garden against the Leafs–the Rangers have a Metropolitan Division-leading 14 points, and only unbeaten Montreal has more points with 18.
Extrapolated over 80 games, the Rangers are on a 112-point pace. As a matter of comparison, the 2014-15 edition finished with an NHL-best 113 points.
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And yet, the current squad is not yet a finished product. There have been slow starts to games, the latest occurring in the win over Calgary, who actually led 1-0 after the first period and finished the game by out-attempted the Rangers 55-54.
“Our record is really good but I think at the same time we know in here that maybe one or two games we played a 60-minute game really hard,” said Dan Girardi, whose second period goal Sunday night was the game-winner. The veteran defenseman passed Mark Messier for 10th place on the franchise’s all-time games played list with 769. “There’s been really good spots in games but we’ve been obviously not great during times. We just need to find a way just to get that 60-minute game. We’ll improve in our record but we’re pretty happy with the first 10 games with our record.
“There’s definitely room to improve.”
Starting with puck possession. Under Alain Vigneault, the Rangers have implemented an up-tempo, puck possession-based offensive attack. However, they rank 23rd in the NHL in Corsi For percentage (47.8) and 24th in Fenwick For percentage (47.7), according to data compiled byhockey-reference.com. Corsi calculates total shot attempts, while Fenwick calculates unblocked shot attempts.
Against the Flames, the Rangers had a slight edge in shots on goal (26-23) and unblocked shot attempts (38-37).
“We were up going into the third,” said Kevin Hayes, referring to the Rangers’ 2-1 lead after the second period Sunday. “You don’t want to ease off the gas, don’t let them play in your end of the rink. You want to keep the pressure on them and that’s what we did. We made them create a few turnovers and pay a few times.
“We know what it takes to win, to close out a game. Especially with the lead, we don’t want to sit back and let them dictate the play. We still need to be up in their face and create momentum.”
You can follow NHL writer Denis P. Gorman on Twitter at @DenisGorman