The Rangers’ 4-1 loss to the Sharks on Saturday marked their fourth defeat in five games.
The Rangers were relieved to be back at the Garden Monday morning after a three-game trip in California ended in alarming fashion. Captain Ryan McDonagh explained after Saturday’s 4-1 loss in San Jose that players weren’t competing hard enough for one another.
It appears his teammates realize how unacceptable their lackadaisical performance was with only 10 games remaining in the NHL regular season, including Monday night’s game against the Panthers, especially with their playoff berth not yet secure. They risk falling into Wild Card position after a long hold on the second spot in the Metropolitan Division.
Saturday was a wake-up call for a team that intends to compete for the Stanley Cup.
“I think so,” defenseman Keith Yandle said after the team’s morning skate. “Anytime you lose you’ve kind of got to look at yourself in the mirror. I think we’ve got the right group in here. It’s not like we’re fooling each other in here. We know we didn’t play well. We know we didn’t do our best.”
Rick Nash said the team discussed what happened on Saturday and that the players “know what needs to happen in this dressing room.” He also warned how tough the first game after long road trips can be, having done it many times while he was with the Columbus Blue Jackets, who were inconveniently in the Western Conference from their inception in 2000-01 through the 2012-13 season before realignment shifted them to the East.
The winger called for a “huge response” and said it starts defensively.
“Can’t give up four or five goals for a team that gives up one or two, and that’s it,” Nash said. “That’s been our bread and butter and we need to focus on that.”
Nash has played well defensively since returning from a painful left-leg bone bruise on March 12 in Detroit after missing seven weeks, but he had zero points and 14 shots on goal in his first five games back entering Monday. He expressed frustration with not getting the looks he’s used to getting in the offensive zone.
“First five games have definitely been a struggle for me personally,” Nash said. “It’s tough to find your time and it’s tough to find your speed. (Seven) weeks is a long time. Coming back, it’s hard, but I’ve got to try to stay positive and try to help the team out somehow.”
Nash said he didn’t want to make excuses, but Alain Vigneault noted how Nash has had just one full team practice since returning.
“I don’t think he should get frustrated,” Vigneault said. “In today’s NHL with the way the schedule’s laid out, a guy like that that couldn’t skate for basically six weeks, couldn’t put any weight on that leg, you’ve just got to be patient.”
Dylan McIlrath (knee) skated with the team Monday morning in a yellow non-contact jersey. He’s day-to-day but Vigneault said it might be a week before he’s fully healed.