How the Rangers can turn it around
This time, it was an opposing goalie. The New York Rangers generated enough offensive chances to win a tight checking game against the Montreal Canadiens. Coach Alain Vigneault liked the way his team converged on the net for rebounds. It's just that the rebounds never came, thanks to Montreal goalie Peter Budaj.
The Rangers lost Monday night by two, and that second goal? Pretty borderline. It looked like it was kicked in from television replays, although maybe it wasn't distinct enough.
Of course, if you're a gambler, you know to bet against the team that just returned from a long road trip. That first game back is always a tough one, with the distractions of home piled up, waiting for the players' return.
To their credit, the Rangers aren't making excuses, even if there are plenty of them to explain their 3-7-0 start, one that comes with an alarming goal differential of minus-20. Even the Sabres have been outscored by only 18, and they've played four more games.
The Rangers have played portions of the season without franchise goalie Henrik Lundqvist. They're still missing their captain, Ryan Callahan, and most important offensive threat, Rick Nash. Then there was that massive road trip to start the season.
One coach observed them earlier this season, and the unusual start had clearly taken its toll on the Rangers.
"They were disheveled still. Their camp was still affecting them," he said. "They looked like a midseason tired team. They hadn't had a chance to get their team together yet. Playing all road games, it's hard to get enough practice time in."
When the road trip was over, Derick Brassard took a moment to explain the enormity of starting the season with nine consecutive games on the road. Not because he was making excuses, but because he was asked.
"It was really hard on the body. Honestly, it's never going to happen [again] to anyone. Just because the thing that happened at MSG, we had to start with nine [road] games. Nine? It's a lot," Brassard. "It's a lot and we went from Western Canada to West Coast to Vegas to back to New York, all over the place. I think our room, when we're talking about our start, there's never any excuses."
There can't be. Because the rest of the league doesn't care.
Every reason listed above is a perfectly valid explanation as to why a team expected to make the playoffs is last in a bad division. But ultimately, if this team misses the playoffs, nobody is going to want to hear about the first nine games of the season. Or the short time Lundqvist missed with an early injury.
Playoff teams all hit adversity; the Rangers' just happened to come early. Through it all, you learn a thing or two about your team, about your new coach. In this case, it's been an ability to stay positive.
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