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Odd Man Rush: Lost in translation: Rangers still seeking identity

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Updated: 10/11/2013 1:12 pm

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Prometheus gave man the gift of fire, but perhaps hindsight would have been the better endowment for the New York Rangers.

The Rangers finally felt this offseason that it wasn't going to work under the hard-nosed John Tortorella. His defense-first, sacrifice-the-body mentality had garnered plenty of regular-season success and playoff appearance after playoff appearance, but it never got the Blueshirts drinking blissful nectar from the Stanley Cup.

So, New York turned to a new head coach in Alain Vigneault, one who would maximize the offensive talent that the Rangers had collected. The playmaking of Brad Richards, the sniping of Rick Nash, the progress of youngsters J.T. Miller and Chris Kreider were being wasted under Tortorella. Vigneault would be the one to unlock the treasures from the vault like he did with the Sedin twins, Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows.

Sure, some defense would have to be sacrificed to make it work, but it would be worth it for the sake of Rangers hockey.

However, a 1-3-0 start under Vigneault, one that has produced a minus-14 goal differential, has put the idea of defense at the feet of Zeus like a sacrificial ram.

A slow start under a fresh head coach and a new system wasn't completely unexpected, especially with the Rangers opening the season on a nine-game road trip. But consecutive losses of 9-2 and 6-0 to San Jose and Anaheim, respectively, have jolted the Blueshirt faithful.

"It's just an awful feeling out there right now," said Rangers star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. "We're not getting it done. I don't have an explanation for it. We're just so far from where we need to be."

The Ducks figured to be in for a long night when they hosted the Rangers two nights after New York was routed by the Sharks, a seven-goal setback that saw San Jose rookie Tomas Hertl score four times. New York would surely hit the ice with a vengeance.

Instead, the Rangers were outshot 17-3 in the first period and trailed 3-0.

"We're obviously trying new things here, a different look. But hockey is about all the small details in the game and if you don't do that right, it's going to be a tough game. Especially when you play fast teams," said Lundqvist.

How long has it been since Lundqvist has seen this kind of chaos for the Rangers on the ice?

"This is probably the first time here in all my years in New York it's looked this bad," he said.

And Lundqvist should know, for he has seen plenty of action. Entering play on Friday, the veteran netminder was tied for second in the NHL in shots faced at 124.

The Rangers as a whole have given up 20 goals and have not scored more than three in any of their four games.

With the emphasis on picking up the offense, New York's blueliners have looked lost. Ryan McDonagh was just plain beaten to the outside on a stutter move by Anaheim's Corey Perry to set up the Ducks' first goal and New York's defense was caught with too many men behind the net on Anaheim's second tally.

It didn't seem things could get worse after the first period, but that wasn't the case. The Rangers looked heavily out of sync on the Ducks' fourth goal, when forward Benoit Pouliot and defenseman Michael Del Zotto skated into each other at their own blue line and lost the puck. Lundqvist raced out of his net to try and clear the turnover, but wasn't able to get the puck out of zone and the Ducks eventually fired the puck onto the gapping cage.

"Our puck management is not very good right now," said defenseman Dan Girardi. "We're just giving pucks away and not getting all the way down to their hash marks and making them go down and get it. We're making life easy on other teams. They're playing however they want, coming out of the zone freely and cycling on us. We've got to find a way to get the puck out of our zone as fast as we can and create some offensive zone pressure to take the onus off the defense here."

While Tortorella took heat for the Rangers' struggles on offense, Vigneault has not found better luck. Complicating things was the loss of Nash, who returned to New York after taking an elbow to the head against San Jose, a hit from Sharks defenseman Brad Stuart that drew a suspension.

Vigneault inserted Jesper Fast into the lineup to replace Nash against Anaheim and put him on a line with Taylor Pyatt and Derek Stepan.

The grouping was on the ice for all three of Anaheim's first-period goals.

The Rangers have plenty of build-in excuses right now; a new system, injuries, a long road trip, but aren't biting.

"We all know what we're supposed to do," said Girardi. "A.V. (Vigneault) gave us the game plan. We all know it. It's been a long time since training camp started. I know we've been on the road but that doesn't matter. Everyone knows what we have to do in the d-zone. It's pretty self-explanatory. We just refuse to be in front of the net and be strong in front."

Asked about his team's confidence, Vigneault said his club is being tested. He said it is up to him to get his team performing better on the ice, but he isn't about to alter the game plan either.

"The execution, making the tape-to-tape pass has nothing to do with the systems. Coming through the neutral zone and reading the other team's pressure and making the play with the puck has nothing to do with the system. Those are all things that these players have done their whole lives and I'm confident they can still do," said the coach.

The good news for the Rangers is that after opening with four games out west, they will be back on the East Coast to finish up their road trip, including a six-day span from Oct. 19-24 in which they play just twice and are near home with games against New Jersey and Philadelphia.

The bad news is they are still over two weeks away from their home opener at the new-look Madison Square Garden on Oct. 28. And they better have some wins by then or they will be the pig to the crowd's Zeus.

"We have the character in this room to do it. It's just a matter of mustering it up and realizing it and going on the ice and doing it," said captain Ryan Callahan. "We can say all we things we want in the locker room and in the media, but that doesn't mean anything until you go out there and do it."

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