The Rangers Are Sinking, and Big Changes Are Coming

The Rangers Are Sinking, and Big Changes Are Coming

“We stopped doing our jobs on the ice,” he said.

The Rangers have been hampered by injuries to key players like Chris Kreider, Kevin Shattenkirk, Marc Staal, Jimmy Vesey and Pavel Buchnevich.

But the bottom line is they have been exposed as insufficient on many levels when Lundqvist isn’t at his best. The Rangers have scored four goals total in their last four games, and their defense is inadequate without Shattenkirk, their major off-season signing. Disorganized play up front has caught up to them in recent weeks.

The team’s captain, Ryan McDonagh, was exasperated after the latest debacle, in which the Bruins blitzed the Rangers with six consecutive goals after Rick Nash, who is likely to be traded in the coming days, put the home team ahead briefly with an early goal.

“It’s probably one of the worst games of my career and one of the worst games I’ve ever been a part of in my Rangers career,” McDonagh said after the rout. “We need a lot better from everybody, and definitely myself.”

Photo

Rick Nash, who can become an unrestricted free agent after this season, is expected to be traded before the deadline on Feb. 26.

Credit
Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

McDonagh, 28, has not missed the N.H.L. playoffs since he joined the Rangers midway through the 2010-11 campaign. He continued his critique in a somber dressing room, where only a handful of his teammates were willing to face the music.

“It’s been brutal, no question about it,” he said. “With everything going on with the team, we need to stay focused on trying to put together somewhat of a complete game. We’re not getting close.”

Mats Zuccarello, the team’s leading scorer the past two seasons and three of last four, has only eight goals, and none since Dec. 16. He is as frustrated as McDonagh with the team’s shoddy play.

“These are tough times right now,” he said hours before the Bruins loss. “Everyone knows that. No one is happy about that and how we’re playing.”

The Rangers’ swoon has myriad causes, starting with their lack of depth at the center position since trading Derek Stepan to Arizona in June. They also failed to replace Dan Girardi, the stalwart defenseman in front of Lundqvist for the past decade, whose contract was bought out after last season.

The new-look squad started 3-7-2 before turning it around. The next two months produced better results, thanks mostly to Lundqvist, 35, the team’s lone All-Star. Between Oct. 31 and Jan. 1, when the Rangers edged the Buffalo Sabres, 3-2, in the Winter Classic at Citi Field, the Rangers were 18-6-3 and seemed to be moving in the right direction despite their flaws.

Since then, though, their fortunes have fallen because of injuries and slumps by key players.

They lost Kreider to a blood clot in his shoulder in late December. Then Shattenkirk announced on Jan. 19 that he had been hampered with a left knee issue since training camp and would need surgery to fix a torn meniscus.

Buchnevich, who has 13 goals in 50 games, sustained a concussion against Toronto on Feb. 1, then Vesey (concussion) and Staal (neck injury) were hurt against Nashville two nights later.

What happens next is anyone’s guess. Nash, whose contract is expiring, is expected to be the first to go. McDonagh has also been mentioned in trade rumors, as has Zuccarello and the free-agent-to-be Michael Grabner, who leads the Rangers with 21 goals.

As far as swirling talk about major personnel changes, Zuccarello tries to stay focused in the moment, however unpredictable that may prove.

“It’s nothing I can control,” he said. “But we’re human beings so it’s normal that when everyone else is talking, it’s in your mind. Hopefully you’re going to be here. If not, it’s going to be a sad day.”

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