NEW YORK – The thing about a team that’s had as much success as the Rangers have over the last few years, they know when it’s not good enough.
They’re not scared to admit it.
The Rangers were certainly not good enough Tuesday night against the Jets, losing their first game of the season by a 4-1 final at Madison Square Garden thanks in part to their goose egg on five power-play chances, and lackadaisical play with the puck in all three zones.
“We could say we had a lot of confidence, we were feeling good about ourselves,” said captain Ryan McDonagh. “It’s a lesson learned here, that you can’t just show up and think it’s going to just happen easily. This is a tough league, every team is tough. Our compete-level was there, and our effort and our heart was there, but you got to complete the whole process there and be mentally sharp.”
“Every night you step on the ice you have to make sure that you’re mentally prepared as a group and as an individual,” said forward Derek Stepan. “I think it’s one of our strengths as a team is our mental focus is pretty good. For whatever reason tonight we came out and we were just kind of blah.”
The Rangers were woeful with their puck management – turning it over numerous times in the neutral zone. They were charged with 15 giveaways, though it could have been many more.
“It all comes down to our preparation and making sure that we’re ready to compete,” Stepan said. “We had 41 shots tonight, so it’s not that we didn’t have some looks.”
“You might say we could feel good about ourselves [after a 3-0-0 start to the season], but if you ask people in here our guys know we weren’t where we wanted to be, where we needed to be mentally,” McDonagh said. “It wasn’t for the lack of effort or will, just mentally we weren’t sharp with the puck with our decision-making.”
The Rangers lead the NHL in even-strength goals, with 12, but they’ve recorded just one power-play tally through four games on nine attempts.
“Even though we had a lot of shots, we didn’t see the big scoring chances,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who made 25 saves. “The special teams – [Winnipeg] stepped up. They won them the game, the way they played on their PK and power play.”
“Our power play was a letdown, the penalty-killing, too,” McDonagh said. “It’s been a foundation for us over the years. Tonight, we didn’t have good reads on when to be aggressive or jump them to get the puck out of their hands.”
Not only did the Rangers go 0-for-5 on the man advantage, they allowed the Jets to score a shorthanded goal, the first allowed by the Rangers this season. They allowed two power-play goals and a shorthanded goal for the first time in just over a year, since October 12, 2014 against the Maple Leafs.
“There’s no doubt the difference in tonight’s game was the specialty teams,” said coach Alain Vigneault. “Their power play found a way to score two, and our power play found a way to give up one, and we didn’t score one.”
“Special teams are so important. It’s no secret that if you want to have success you need your special teams to be strong,” Stepan said. “You can’t get too frustrated. No reason to panic yet. We’ve got some work to do on it, but just have to get the group together, connect the dots, and score a goal.”
“They’re a good team, give them credit; they capitalized on their chances,” McDonagh said. “For us, it’s a tough lesson learned, but a good one early on.”