I can promise you that the Rangers do not believe their problem lies behind the bench with the head coach. No one in the team hierarchy wants to point a finger at David Quinn. No one wants to have to make a coaching change.
But games such as this one, in which the Blueshirts took a full-faced pratfall on the Garden ice in losing 5-2 to a Devils team that hadn’t played a game since Jan. 31 and had only one practice with which to prep … well, games such as this may force club president John Davidson to ask some pointed questions about just what the hell is going on here?
Boy, oh boy, oh boy. This was that malodorous.
After a match in which the Devils owned the first and third periods, and salted it away with three goals over the final 20 minutes to bust open a 2-2 contest, Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider — a pair of the biggest culprits in the team’s 4-7-3 getaway — minced no words at all.
“We were lacking a little bit of desperation to be honest with you,” said Zibanejad, last year’s 41-goal scorer who has been stuck on one for 11 straight games. “The whole game, we didn’t get up to the level we needed to.
“We’ve got to find a way to get it done.”
The Rangers have either been in the lead or tied through two periods in 11 of their 14 contests. Yet, they have won merely four times. It’s not enough to suggest that Zibanejad’s dreadful start or that Kreider’s negligible impact most of the way are the root causes of what ails the team, though few clubs can surmount lack of productivity from its biggest guns.
No, there’s more. The Rangers, who won 18 of 26 immediately following Igor Shesterkin’s promotion to Broadway last January, have forgotten how to win. It is more than having the next-to-worst five-on-five shooting percentage in the NHL. Or maybe there is just less there than meets the eye.
Quinn, who appeared as downcast during his postgame Zoom call with the media as he has through the two-plus years of his tenure, was asked whether this was about effort.
“Uh, yeah,” he said, appearing as beaten as his team.
When a team loses because of effort, does at least some of it have to bounce back on the coach? I’ll answer that: Uh, yeah.
All of the improvements in the defensive zone — well, not over these final 20 minutes in which the Blueshirts went without the injured Jacob Trouba — don’t seem to amount to a hill of beans compared to the issues this club seems to be facing.
“For a majority of the game they out-hit us, out-skated us, outworked us, won the majority of the battles,” Kreider said. “I mean, chances aside, we got away from the things we had been doing well.”
This, then, the money quote from Kid K: “They flat-out wanted it more. It’s unacceptable.”
The Rangers were not undone in this one by the power play. They did not draw even a single man-advantage for the first time this year. They did dominate much of the second period in which the Ryan Strome-Kaapo Kakko-Alexis Lafreniere trio owned the puck below the hash marks, but did not draw a single foul.
Hey, you know what? Kreider has not drawn a single penalty this season while taking six, including a delay of game in the first period. And Zibanejad has drawn exactly one while taking five, including a second-period elbow he contested and for which he was in the box for Pavel Zacha’s power-play goal.
Again, though, these are the individual trees through which the forest might not be visible. The only reason the Rangers were even in the game in the second was because Shesterkin was 2019-20 lights-out through the opening 20 minutes. OK, Artemi Panarin was sidelined for the second straight game, but that doesn’t even come close to explaining the club’s maladies.
“A lot of things that happened tonight, you wonder why,” said Quinn, whose job it is not to wonder but provide solutions. “To me we’re in a situation where we haven’t won an awful lot, you know. We’ve got to understand the difference between winning and losing and what you need to do it.”
Quinn gets called out all the time on social media for his failure to develop kids. That’s a ball of malarkey. Kakko — maybe the club’s best in this one, and that is not meant as faint praise — has made dramatic strides over the past two weeks. Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren and K’Andre Miller speak for themselves. Pavel Buchnevich, tweaked by the coach prior to the game, responded. His game has improved by leaps and bounds playing for Quinn. Lafreniere? No, I don’t think the coach is responsible for the No. 1’s one-goal and one-point output.
But a game like this one … well, when the bus goes off course, everyone looks at the driver. The Rangers do not want to look at the coach, but that might be easier said than done.