NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Updated: Saturday, December 19, 2015, 1:16 AM
Dan Boyle hangs his head and skates away as the Jets celebrate a second-period goal by teammate Tyler Myers.
WINNIPEG – If this is the blueprint for the rest of the Rangers’ season, they will play their final game on April 9 against the Detroit Red Wings at the Garden and not in May or June.
Friday night’s 5-2 loss to the middling Winnipeg Jets at the MTS Centre, coming on the heels of Thursday night’s 5-2 defeat to the Minnesota Wild in St. Paul marked the Blueshirts’ eighth regulation defeat in their past 13 games (3-8-2).
The Rangers (19-11-4, 42 points) know they are not a playoff team even though they technically hold a spot in the East. So the doors to their locker room remained closed a long while, and when they opened, the top players whose performances are failing this club the most publicly demanded more out of everyone – starting with themselves.
“You have to ask yourself as a player, ‘What more can I do to be prepared?’ ” said captain Ryan McDonagh (minus-three), whose turnover behind the net led to Bryan Little’s first of two first-period goals. “What more can I do to get my game to where it needs to be for this team to be successful again, right away, right after a game? Get yourself recovering. Get your body a workout if you need to get stronger. Just dedicate your mind 100% to what your job is on the ice and whatever you can do to help execute your job better.”
McDonagh gulped and continued.
“Nobody is doing quite enough or even close to what it takes to win games right now,” he said after the Rangers slipped to 0-5-2 in their last seven road games. “I still have a lot of confidence in this group and the coaches have a lot of confidence in the structure and our game plans. It’s a matter of us players dedicating ourselves, getting our minds solely focused on hockey a little bit more, and maybe that will help slowly but surely everybody get back to the way each one of us think we can.”
This team has plenty of fringe players that routinely don’t cut it, such as forward Viktor Stalberg, who was rightfully nailed to the bench for almost the entire third period Friday of what wasn’t even an AHL-level effort. There are a handful of guys who stand out as consistently hard and effective workers in J.T. Miller, Dominic Moore and Tanner Glass. There was even one pleasant surprise this week: hungry forward Emerson Etem.
But this Rangers meltdown has gone nuclear because “a lot of our top players,” as coach Alain Vigneault put it politely, “are having a hard time.” And no one turned in a worse two-game road trip than center Derick Brassard (four goals against) and linemates Mats Zuccarello (four goals against) and Rick Nash (three goals against), who backed up a one-shot performance as a line in Minnesota with a ridiculous debacle of coverage issues and miscommunication in Winnipeg.
“We created mistakes during the game,” Brassard said. “Right now we have to go back and be on the same page with our structure. There’s too much thinking in our game right now. We have to play looser. We all have to be better, especially after tonight, us three. Some nights it’s gonna go well, some nights it’s not. We take pride in trying to lead this team offensively, but tonight it was tough for us with the goals against.”
Ryan McDonagh, Dan Boyle, Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello celebrate a second-period goal during their loss.
Chris Kreider (minus-two) continues to be invisible. McDonagh and Marc Staal were on for three goals against. Even Henrik Lundqvist (31 saves), who made several big saves in the second period, only did so after three pucks zipped by him in the first. It’s always one too many with Lundqvist lately.
Friday night, Dustin Byfuglien’s point shot at 17:31 of the first was a killer, answering a Miller goal for a 3-1 Jets lead after a lost face-off by Rangers center Derek Stepan, who was minus-two in his first game back from a 10-game injury absence (broken ribs). Tyler Myers also answered Dan Boyle’s late second-period tally with a finish two minutes and two seconds later for a commanding 4-2 lead.
Vigneault had been adamant before the game that his team could focus on the positives of the loss in Minnesota, but after Friday night’s collapse he seemed to have a new perspective. That included watching shaky Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck (26 saves) receiving a 12-minute, 48-second stretch off from any Rangers shots on goal from the late first period into the second.
Vigneault announced: “I’m the head coach. It’s my job to get our top players to play to their top level, to play a smart game.”
Then he and his team left the MTS Centre, not knowing which way to turn next.
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