Rangers At A Crossroads

NEW YORK – The large metal door that separates the Rangers locker room from the rest of Madison Square Garden was closed.

Five minutes. Ten minutes. Fourteen minutes.

Reporters checked their cell phones, talked to each other, and posted on Twitter the length of the delay, which on a normal night is about five minutes.

Finally, after the Rangers (15-15-1) were finished self-evaluating their 4-1 loss to the Capitals on Sunday night, the stainless-steel door opened.

Inside the circular locker room sat all 20 players, still sitting at their stalls after the closed-door players-only meeting had concluded. Eyes wide open, frustrated and bewildered over yet another disappointing effort.

“We’re going to have to get a little uncomfortable here and get out of our comfort zone,” said Brad Richards when the thick door was finally swung open by a member of the team’s public relations staff. “We’re just floating around and it’s getting old. We win one, lose one. Win one, lose one. Whatever it is we’re doing is obviously way too comfortable.”

After an even first period, the Rangers came out unwilling to push the tempo against the Capitals (16-12-2), who were – like the Rangers – playing on back-to-back nights. The Caps took it to the Rangers, scoring two goals in a 25 second span early in the period to turn the game. From there, Washington dictated the tempo, forcing the Rangers to play a track-meet style that does not fit their skill-set.

“We should be the ones dictating everything. Especially at home, here,” said Ryan McDonagh in the nearly-silent Rangers post-game locker room. “It’s been too easy for teams coming in here. We should be coming out with a lot of fire, and get some hits, get some blocked shots, get the crowd into it. The crowd really had nothing to stand up for tonight. That’s something we’re ashamed of, and something we’re trying to take some pride in and correct.”

“Without a doubt, our compete-level is a .500 compete level. Not consistent enough,” said Rangers coach Alain Vigneault. “With the personnel that we have right now, we need to play a smart, high-percentage, good puck-movement game. If we do that, we can be very effective. That’s the type of personnel we have at this time.”

None of the Rangers players wanted to explain what was talked about behind that stainless steel door. But it’s a pretty safe bet they weren’t patting each other on the back.

“We’ve got to get a mindset of thinking about hockey at all times, at this point,” McDonagh said. “We’ve got no one to blame but ourselves here, and we’ve got to stick together as a group, here. We’ve proven in the past we can do it, and we have to be collective, here.”

“I think we all just have to look at ourselves here and see what we can improve as one player to help this group and help this team to turn this around,” said Henrik Lundqvist (32 saves). “There’s no point in looking over your shoulder for an answer. Coach yourself and try to be better.”

The early-season excuse for the Rangers’ struggles was a need to acclimate to Vigneault’s systems. Thirty-one games into the campaign, that’s no longer an excuse. It’s time for the Rangers to show what they are – or perhaps, show what they aren’t.

“You can talk all you want, you need to have those words become actions on the ice, and the right type of actions,” Vigneault said. “I firmly believe that this group is much better than that, but we’re not showing it. We can talk all we want behind closed doors, it’s on the 200-by-85 that things are decided.”

NOTES:

Capitals goaltender Philipp Grubauer made just his second-career start – and first this season. He stopped 30 shots to earn his first career win.

The Caps’ first goal snapped Lundqvist’s shutout streak against Washington at 202:28, dating back to the beginning of Game 6 of their 2013 Eastern Conference Semifinal.

INSIDE THE LOCKER ROOM:

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