The common thread that runs through the Rangers’ season is the unacceptable number of times they have been marked absent at the drop of the puck. The Blueshirts have come out flat well in excess of the 22 games in which they allowed the first goal.
As such, the team’s fate in its quest to qualify for the playoffs will begin at the start when the season restarts following a bye week with Saturday afternoon’s match at the Garden against the Islanders followed by Sunday night’s contest in Pittsburgh.
Following last Saturday night’s 2-1 shootout victory in Arizona, J.T. Miller bemoaned the lack of preparation. It has been a recurring theme throughout the season.
“We understand that the responsibility lies with ourselves as individuals,” Miller told The Post following Friday’s practice. “The coaches give us the information we need and it’s up to us to be ready mentally to start each game at a high level.
“We can’t think that we can just kind of ease into games because that just makes it too hard on ourselves. For whatever reason, we’ve done that too often. But at the same time, I don’t want to look back too much. I think the break came at a good time. We’d been playing a lot of hockey. I think we’re all refreshed and excited to be back.”
Kevin Shattenkirk, one of the key players who must elevate his game dramatically if the Rangers are to go anywhere, dismissed the notion that coach Alain Vigneault’s laissez-faire policy when it comes to the locker room has played a role in the stream of stutter-step starts.
“Most of the coaches I’ve been with stay out of the room pregame and leave it to the leaders,” Shattenkirk, who is working for his sixth head coach and fourth NHL team, told The Post. “At this level, coaches being fiery and very rah-rah generally doesn’t resonate with players. Between periods, sometimes, yes, that’s different, but not before games.
“Everyone is on his own individual program in their preparation routine. You don’t want a dictatorship. We’re in the NHL. But once you hit the ice for warmups, you’ve got to get into a mental frame of mind to be ready to go in 20 minutes. You have to get your legs ready and your body physically ready to go into a hostile environment and be prepared for the battle.”
The Rangers have been a reactionary team much of the year. They rarely dictate the pace. Instead, they’ve fallen into a wait-and-see approach that has been counterproductive more often than not. You probably don’t need all 10 fingers to count the club’s 60-minute efforts.
“It’s been an issue for us that we’ve been kind of waiting to see what happens in games,” Shattenkirk said. “We get down by a goal and then we play with the desperation required to get back in the game. We need to mimic that desperation from the start.
“We’re all aware of that. It’s our responsibility to reverse that. And I think for sure that facing the Islanders and Penguins over the weekend makes it pretty clear that we’re going to need to play our best hockey.”