NEW YORK – Through six games of this young regular season, the Rangers have yet to put together a full 60-minute effort.
It didn’t happen Sunday afternoon against the woeful Devils, either, as the Rangers dropped their third straight game, a 2-1 overtime defeat that was New Jersey’s first win of the season.
“We need to be concerned,” said defenseman Dan Girardi. “We’re not pressing any panic buttons by any means, but it needs to be addressed right now. We got to stop the bleeding at three.”
“Couldn’t tell you at this time, because if I had the answer I would have fixed it by now. I’m sure the players have their theory,” said coach Alain Vigneault, before referencing Monday’s match against San Jose, the second of a back-to-back set. “Good thing is, we’ve got an opportunity tomorrow to try to put a 60-minute effort together.”
The Rangers (3-2-1) came out of the gates flying – they had the first five shots of the game, and opened the scoring when Oscar Lindberg found Derek Stepan cutting to the net 3:12 into the first period. According to statistical website War on Ice, the Rangers held the Devils (1-3-1) to zero first-period scoring chances, while getting 11 of their own. But New Jersey had a strong final 40 minutes, tying the game early in the second on Adam Henrique’s goal-mouth stuff-in.
“I do think we came out with good energy, good execution to the process,” Vigneault said. “We weren’t able to sustain it. We knew going into the game this was a hard-working team, any team in this league is a good team and you have to work extremely hard and you have to be on top of your game. Should be quite obvious to our players at this time that we’re not on top of ours.”
“No matter whether you win or lose, there’s always something to improve on,” Girardi said. “When you lose three in a row, you have to think hard and dig deep and figure out what you, yourself, can do for the team.”
The Devils won the game during three-on-three overtime when former Ranger Lee Stempniak scored moments after Stepan hit the post.
“For whatever reason, they took over and we just really weren’t able to get it back,” Stepan said after his third goal of the season was the Rangers’ only score of the game. “We had some looks to bury some goals and that would’ve made a huge difference. We just weren’t able to do it today. A big thing we have to do is stay confident. You can’t start fighting it. As soon as you do that it’s going to get worse. We just have to get better each day and be a confident group going into tomorrow night.”
Many of the Rangers’ top players continued to struggle. Rick Nash has started the season by going six games without scoring a goal, the longest drought to open a season of his career. Chris Kreider has also been held off the scoresheet through six games, while Derick Brassard has just one goal. Meanwhile, the team was forced to place Jesper Fast on the second line after Kevin Hayes did not make an impact over the team’s first five outings.
“Our work ethic, I don’t think, is an issue,” Vigneault said. “It’s our execution. We need to make more plays both defensively and offensively right now. We’ve got, in my estimation, one player that’s on top of his game [right now] and that’s Henrik Lundqvist.”
“It felt like there was low energy in this game. Maybe it’s the way they play; they sit back a lot and wait for mistakes, and we try to play a tight game,” Lundqvist said after making 22 saves in the losing effort. “It’s disappointing, obviously. Coming home, we felt like we needed to get a win here and start building more positive energy in the group. We have another chance tomorrow.”
“I know this team knows how to respond, and that’s going to be the thing for us,” Stepan said. “Luckily, we get to play tomorrow.”
Girardi went awkwardly into the boards late in the third period, and was slow to his feet. He told reporters after the game he wasn’t sure what happened, but considered himself lucky after he emerged from the collision uninjured.
The Rangers had their six-game win streak against the Devils snapped, as New Jersey earned its first win for new head coach John Hynes, and its first win at Madison Square Garden since Dec. 7, 2013.
The Rangers went 0-for-2 on the power play, falling to 1-for-16 (6.3%) on the season.