By Sean Hartnett
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When the Rangers find themselves in a hole, they grab a shovel and dig their way out. That's always been the trademark of this team under Alain Vigneault. They identify their problems, find solutions and right the ship quickly.
On Sunday, the Rangers failed to put away an offensively-deficient Devils team that entered Madison Square Garden winless. After fully dominating the first 20 minutes and leading 1-0, the Rangers had the Devils on the ropes but couldn't land a decisive knockout blow. Their execution dipped and they allowed the scrappy Devils back into the game.
For the final 40 minutes of regulation, the Rangers got sucked into playing the kind of conservative game that favors the Devils. Former Ranger Lee Stempniak piled on their misery by scoring the winning goal in overtime on a two-on-one rush after Derek Stepan rang iron on the other end.
Execution is the key word for the Rangers. Following the defeat, Vigneault insisted that work ethic isn't an issue.
"You've got to be on top of your game," Vigneault said. "It should be quite obvious to our players at this time that we're not on top of ours and we need to find our game. Our work ethic I don't think is an issue. It's our execution and our game. We need to make more plays both defensively and offensively right now. We've got in my estimation one player that's on top of his game -- and that's Henrik Lundqvist."
Stepan and impressive rookie center Oscar Lindberg could also be grouped into the list of Rangers that are playing to or playing above expectations, but Vigneault is sending the right message to his team. There's plenty of players that need to find their game.
The Rangers been outscored 9-2 during their three-game losing streak. Their anemic power play is 1-for-16 to start the season. Star winger Rick Nash's six-game goalless drought is the longest to begin a season in his 13-year career. Chris Kreider, Keith Yandle and captain Ryan McDonagh have also failed to light the lamp. Veteran defensemen Dan Girardi and Dan Boyle have looked careless with the puck and even worse without it.
Overall, the Rangers have been plagued by bad outlet passes and a lack of general cohesiveness. Vigneault has reshuffled his forward lines and defense pairs in search of a spark and still hasn't gotten the necessary response.
"We're still looking for that full 60-minute hockey game that we haven't found yet," Stepan said.
Keep in mind, the Rangers began last season 7-7-4. They suffered two separate three-game losing streaks in mid-October and mid-November. When they found their game, they kept the pedal to the floor by playing a lightning-fast transition game and attacking in four-man rushes. This track meet style saw the Rangers finish the 2014-15 season as 113-point Presidents' Trophy winners.
The Rangers had scheduled an 11 a.m. meeting Monday to work out the kinks. It all looks pretty rough at the moment, but that can change quickly.
"A big thing that we have to do is we have to stay confident," Stepan said Sunday. "You can't start fighting it. As soon as you start doing that, it's gonna get worse. We've just got to get better each day and be a confident group going into tomorrow night."
It will need to be a quick turnaround for the Rangers as the Pacific Division-leading San Jose Sharks (4-1) enter Madison Square Garden on Monday night. The Sharks lead the Western Conference with a plus-nine goal differential, but are coming off a 6-3 loss to the Islanders in Brooklyn on Saturday.
"We're not pressing any panic button by any means but it needs to be addressed right now," Girardi said. "We have to stop the bleeding at three (games). Every shift matters. We're trying to find ways to win."
There's a reason why the Rangers never panic. They have been in this situation before and they've made corrections.
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