The Rangers loss on Monday night to the Tampa Bay Lightning wasn’t a pretty one. Truthfully, you’ll seldom hear any true sports fan talk about a “good loss,” but there are certainly some that are better than others. For the Rangers, though, Monday’s seemed worse than most.
Former Tampa Bay Lightning captain-gone-Ranger, Martin St. Louis, put it well when he said that, “You can live with yourself losing a game when you played the right way. I don’t know how we can live with that one.” Monday was most certainly not one of those nights where the Blueshirts played the “right way.”
The Rangers were exposed defensively, and were heavily outperformed in what wound up being a memorable return to New York for Ryan Callahan, Brian Boyle, and Anton Stralman. What was different about this loss, though, was that the Rangers truly seemed embarrassed to the core. Dan Girardi even admitted that it would’ve been nice to keep Callahan off of the score sheet during his MSG return on Monday. As if getting “exposed everywhere” wasn’t enough, Callahan’s performance was just insult to injury, in every sense of the phrase.
Head Coach Alain Vigneault in particular, who has become known for his cool, level headed demeanor regardless of the situation, seemed genuinely agitated, jaded, and generally angry following Monday’s loss, and in even less characteristic fashion, his post-game emotions seemed to carry over to the following day’s practice.
After a game in which the Rangers were brutally outplayed, and taken advantage of defensively for countless turnovers and errors, Vigneault told reporters, “Other than the start of both periods, everything in between was just a total disaster. There was turnovers and we made it easy on the opposition on their breakouts and everything in between.”
A total disaster. When pushed further and asked about what specifically went wrong, Vigneault simply stated, “puck management, one-on-one situations, A B C or D. Pick one.” It was one of those nights where what was at one point a containable situation, for no apparent reason proceeded to spiral out of control and get away from them.
There’s no question that if this were the first loss of its kind of this season for the Rangers, the reaction would’ve been drastically different. The issue, however, is that it wasn’t the first such loss. This is in fact the third of fourth time now that one of these so-called “wake-up call” losses has smacked the Rangers right in the noggin. And still, once again, here the Rangers are talking about the need to compete at a high level, and find consistency in their game on a night-in and night-out basis.
Even after Tuesday’s practice, Vigneault was still visibly agitated. He had no issues criticizing the play of the recently reunited Kreider-Stepan-Nash line during the third period of Monday’s game, and he certainly had no qualms about calling on Henrik Lundqvist to be better, as well as the rest of the team in front of him.
“He [Henrik] needs to be better. Our whole group needs to be better,” Vigneault told reporters. “There’s no one guy, this is a team sport. It’s individual preparation, but it’s a team game. And our execution, our commitment, our attention to detail, as a team, needs to go up a notch.”
And really, what better team to bounce back against than the rival Flyers?
While the Rangers would have no time to sit around and harp on what is already done, anyway, tonight the detested rival Philadelphia Flyers are in town for a date with the boys in blue at Madison Square Garden.
In what was already a storied rivalry, the Rangers and the Flyers met in the first round of last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, a series which the Rangers won in a thrilling seven game series. While both teams will look marginally different tonight than they did last April during their playoff dual, there is surely still no love lost between these two organizations.
This is the type of game that will be quite telling about this year’s Rangers team, for if they can’t get up emotionally to compete at a high level against the Flyers, we’ll know the problem runs a little deeper than simply a slump.
The Rangers can talk and talk all day and all night about this, that, and the other thing, but ultimately, at the end of the day, if they can’t put their words into action and compete at the highest possible level, then they will continue to go nowhere, fast.
Alain Vigneault couldn’t have said it any better when talking about tonight’s match-up with the Flyers when he said simply, and bluntly, “We better respond.”
A game against the Flyers might be just exactly what the doctor ordered for this New York Rangers team.
Jake Gittler is now in his second season as a contributing member of The Hockey Writers. After spending the 2014-15 season working in Communications for Adirondack Flames of the AHL and covering the New York Rangers here for The Hockey Writers, Jake’s coverage has been switched over to the Colorado Avalanche for the 2015-16 season. Jake can be reached via email at Jakegittler@gmail.com, or on Twitter @Jgittler_hockey.