Lack of discipline and confusing lineup costly in another loss that sends fans to the exits


When you’re a good team, you find ways to win. When you’re bad, you find ways to lose. For the Rangers, they did it to themselves again in last night’s 3-2 loss to the Devils at a restless MSG.

They’re now 1-5-0 and don’t resemble anything close to a team that’s made the playoffs seven years in a row and 11 of the last 12. What’s more? In Year 5 under bench boss Alain Vigneault, they look lost.

Perhaps all the different lineups, lines and D pairings have confused the players. After losing in Columbus Friday, Vigneault decided to dress seven D and 11 forwards. Even with Jesper Fast returning, he thought the best chance was to not roll four lines and work in seven defensemen. A puzzling rotation that saw Marc Staal limited to 9:24 (17 shifts) and Nick Holden to 9:41 (15 shifts). The same Holden who played top pair with Ryan McDonagh the other night. The same Staal who’s been their most consistent blueliner thus far.

Welcome to the wild and wacky world of the 2017-18 Rangers. Where adding veteran coach Lindy Ruff to manage the D means nothing. If you’re confused, why don’t we ask Chris Kreider if he knows the season started yet? He’s now without a goal in six. Sometimes, he can dominate shifts and other instances, you don’t realize he’s out there.

Even new alternate captain Mats Zuccarello has been underwhelming. Sure. We cheer because the pint sized Norwegian makes it known to opponents he won’t back down by going into the corners and challenging bigger guys. Tom Petty would be proud. But outside of the career best four points he posted against Toronto, he only has one other point. That can’t be for one of the veteran leaders. They need Zucc to be better.

This is the same team that can sit out Tony “Don’t Call Me Anthony” DeAngelo three straight games after a bad shift that led to a Maple Leafs goal in a 8-5 loss. Then decide to stick the unproven defenseman with McDonagh on the top pair. Then watch helplessly as he is culpable on two Devils goals and takes a iffy cross checking penalty that leads to Drew Stafford’s power play game-winner.

We always criticize Vigneault for how little patience he has for younger players. But he sure showed plenty with DeAngelo Saturday playing him 16:13 despite undisciplined play. On the opposite side, you had John Hynes make an example out of his second line by benching Pavel Zacha, Marcus Johansson and Jimmy “Not Kevin” Hayes the final 36 minutes due to their poor defensive work.

Accountability can work. The Rangers totally outplayed the Devils in a lopsided first period by outshooting them 14-3. The only reason the game was scoreless was due to New Jersey backup Keith Kinkaid. He had a splendid game making 29 saves including 13 more big ones in the third with his tired team clinging on.

It’s not the first time the punchless Blueshirts have made a backup look Vezina caliber. Carter Hutton anyone? Right now, this roster would have trouble scoring on pee wee goalies. They have totaled 13 goals in the first six or four more than NHL leader Alex Ovechkin. They aren’t the only team struggling to score goals. Montreal is even worse.

In a league where scoring is up due to the confusing new rules which include love taps for penalties, the Rangers’ lack of creativity is alarming. While it’s easy to point out their defensive deficiencies which turned over pucks to the tune of 16 giveaways, the offense continues to puzzle.

Jimmy Vesey is without a point. Either he plays few minutes like yesterday getting just over eight in a three line rotation or he winds up with more. Is this how to handle one of the few gritty young forwards who proved he could handle the postseason in his rookie year? I’m not saying he doesn’t deserve blame. But they have to do better for Vesey, who is good in front and willing to win battles.

The Rangers have become all finesse. That’s the way they play. An extension of a coach who preaches quick transition emphasizing team speed and extra passes even when there’s a clear shooting lane. That style has worn thin on frustrated fans who headed for the exits at the five minute stoppage of the final period.

Some even departed with half a period left. They knew the team wasn’t coming back from a 3-1 deficit in which Will Butcher made the Rangers’ three penalty killers look silly to lead Stafford in on Ondrej Pavelec for a backhand deke PPG a minute in.

Indeed, it felt like old times at the Garden. The Dark Ages were back with disenchanted fans voicing their displeasure. Even McDonagh felt the wrath after he kneeled instead of taking Brian Gibbons off the puck before he set up Adam Henrique for the game turning goal that tied it up. Nash had scored on a nice feed from David Desharnais. Then the Rangers stopped skating. They only had three shots for the longest time as the Devils and their supporters of which there were many took over.

This was like seeing a bad rerun. A mini section of Devils fans were louder than the lifeless Rangers crowd who don’t like how their team plays. Wildly inconsistent. The same as the performance at Columbus where they played two periods and then no showed the third to lose.

What will change? Vigneault said the same things in a redundant postgame about “looks” and not capitalizing and “bad turnovers” along with having to get back to work Monday for the Pens on Tuesday. Yes. They have a scheduled off day today. Even if they practiced, I’m not sure it would help. They don’t know who they are.

We are only six games in and the Rangers currently sit dead last in the Metro Division with two points. They continue to dig themselves an early hole which could be difficult to climb out of. These games mean the same as the ones in March and April.

They’ve never looked this bad under Vigneault, who signed an extension in January so he wouldn’t be a lame duck coach entering a final year. How does it look now? Once, John Tortorella lost the team one year following a Conference Final that led to a extension. A second round elimination to Boston was enough for him to be fired. Vigneault might be safe for now but for how long?

This isn’t just about him. It’s about the players Jeff Gorton chose including the Derek Stepan deal which so far has netted negative returns. He isn’t doing much better with the dreadful Coyotes. The gaping hole at center isn’t leaving. Last night, J.T. Miller played center winning 10 of 12 draws and assisting on a Kevin Shattenkirk goal with 57 seconds left. It was too late.

That is how they play. Tease you to death. They can control the play for stretches like they did against the Devils but make enough costly mistakes to lose. Shots (31-19) and shot attempts (66-47) along with Corsica don’t matter with a inconsistent team.

They’re a mess. At least first round pick Filip Chytil recorded a goal and two assists in a Hartford win. He barely got a chance. Wouldn’t want to see what he can do. That’s the Rangers in a nutshell.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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