NEW YORK – Maybe this is who the Rangers are.
They are an inconsistent outfit incapable of scoring to the point where they can be a consistent hockey club.
They certainly did not make it hard enough on last-place Florida (9-16-6, 24 pts) or their young goaltender Jacob Markstrom, who made 44 saves in a 3-1 Panthers win Thursday night at MSG.
They outshot the Panthers 45-24, but those 45 shots are a misnomer. Too many of them came from the outside. The Rangers, once again, were content to take what their opponent gave them, instead of working to dictate their own offensive chances against the worst team in the Eastern Conference.
“We have to have these games, that’s the bottom line,” said Marian Gaborik, who was the only Rangers skater to solve Markstrom, but did so with only 3:48 left in the third. “We just have to get more consistent. Bottom line, we just have to execute. We have to score some more goals.”
“We had two-to-one in minutes, as far as zone time, we out-chance them two-to-one, but we’re still not creating enough offense with that amount of time in an end zone,” said Rangers coach John Tortorella. “At the end of the game, we need to create more offense in that situation. That’s where we’re at.”
This certainly appears to be a Rangers team that will to struggle to clinch a spot in the postseason. It is also a team that has failed to consistently play the style Tortorella demands. After losing three straight last week, the Rangers had won their previous two games before tonight’s disappointment.
Maybe the loss of Brandon Prust, Brandon Dubinsky, and Ruslan Fedotenko off last year’s team really did have an effect greater than anyone could have predicted.
The Rangers bottom six forwards – as constructed tonight — have a combined eight goals all season – only one since February 26. Their top six forwards haven’t been lighting it up, either.
“It’s getting old,” said Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist (21 saves). “We just have to put the puck in the net. That’s how you win games.”
“Every other team seems to come out really hard and put us on our heels,” said Girardi. “We have to find a way on the first shift and second shift, just throw everything we have at them in the first couple of shifts and create some momentum that way.”
As a team, the Rangers (15-13-2, 32 points, 9th in East) have seven goals in their last six games (not including the goal awarded to them for winning a shootout against Carolina on Monday).
The Rangers allowed the first goal of the game tonight for the 19th time in their 30 games.
“The start kind of hurt us,” said defenseman Dan Girardi. “These are tough ones to swallow. We had such a big game in New Jersey and battled through that to get a win. To come home against the Panthers, we could have had this game if we played our game and played hard. We really wanted to back up those two wins with a win at home tonight, but that wasn’t the case.”
Are these problems that can be easily fixed at the April 3 trade deadline? Are they even worth fixing, considering the salary-cap problems that could come next season should the Rangers pick up a high-priced veteran for a playoff push of what is increasingly appearing to be a miscast unit?
When this season began, most observers picked the Rangers among the NHL’s elite.
Through 30 games of this shortened 48-game season, the Rangers are not who we thought they were.
The Rangers allowed a power-play goal by the Panthers in the first period, gave up a shorthanded goal with the goaltender pulled late in the third, and went 0-3 on the man advantage.
“The special teams are going to be critical going down the stretch,” Lundqvist said. “The PK, and it starts with me, have to be almost 100% here. We’re in a position where we don’t have the luxury of a lot of goals.”
The Panthers penalty-kill, against which the Rangers were 0-3, is an NHL-worst 74.2% this season.
Rangers captain Ryan Callahan celebrated his 28th birthday on Thursday.