RALEIGH, N.C. - In his first season as coach, Alain Vigneault hadn't seen many games like last night's lackluster 3-1 loss to the Hurricanes, who were on a 1-7 slide.
You'd almost have to go back to October, when the team was vainly trying to come together under a new coaching regime. But it was an unexpected, unwarranted display for a club playing well for weeks and fully aware of the tight playoff races.
So it deserved a blunt postgame assessment. "We didn't work," Vigneault said, "and I haven't said that very often of this group this year; but right from the start our work ethic wasn't what it needs to be in this league to have any chance, and when we do that, we're a below-average team."
Vigneault didn't point the finger at individuals after the loss on the first stop of a three-game trip that continues tomorrow and Friday in Minnesota and Winnipeg, respectively. He didn't have to; it was a team-wide giveaway to a club that the Blueshirts had beaten 10 straight times, including a 4-2 win on Friday.
"It manifested itself in all areas," Vigneault said. "We must have turned the puck over in our own end 12-13 times in the first period alone. In the third period, we're down by a goal and get nothing for the first 12 minutes, other than a puck that goes off a player's head and gives us a scoring chance. Right from the start we weren't there. I don't understand."
Few players could. After all, the lone puck that went past Cam Ward (7-10-5) was off the stick of defenseman Kevin Klein, which tied the score at 1 less than four minutes after an open Jiri Tlusty scored on the first shift of the second period. It was Klein's second goal of the season; his first came when he played with Nashville last December.
Jordan Staal created what proved to be the game-winner late in the second, when his brother Marc misplayed the puck in the neutral zone, leading to a two-on-one with Tlusty. Anton Stralman tried to pin Jordan Staal along the right boards, but the puck came across to Tlusty. Without any backchecking forwards, he drew Henrik Lundqvist out, and fed the Hurricanes center for a gimme at 18:18. Elias Lindholm finished the scoring at 14:31 of the third with his sixth goal.
"We just didn't show up the way we should have at this time of year," with 16 games to play, Brad Richards said. "Maybe overconfidence or waiting for other people to do it. Everybody's got to take control of their game. You can make adjustments, but it comes down to will. We put ourselves in a hole and all of sudden, the game's over. It's not a forgiving league. You've got to be sharp this time of year. We're in no position not to be."
Nothing clicked for the Rangers (35-27-4, 74 points), still in second place in the Metro Division because the Flyers also lost. They managed just 16 shots in the first two periods and 25 overall, took five penalties, and were 0-for-3 on the power play.
"We were lethargic," Marc Staal said. "We lost races, battles, all that stuff that you need to win games, create your own bounces and chances. They did a lot more of that than we did."