New York Rangers cannot blame everything on injuries
Jan 3, 2017; New York, NY, USA; Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel (15) reacts after scoring a goal against New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) during the third period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Alain Vigneault and his high-flying New York Rangers simply cannot blame everything on injuries. It wouldn’t be fair to do so.

You win some, you lose some. Such is life.

Even the best teams in baseball only win two-thirds of the schedule. When spring comes calling and the birds start chirping, not only do New Yorkers start to breathe fresh air with giddiness of warm weather in the back of their minds, they know their beloved New York Mets or Yankees will win and lose 60 games apiece over the course of six months.

What’s critical is what transpires during those other 42 contests. That’s the section of the nitty-gritty that ultimately makes or breaks pennant races.

In hockey, points are the name of the game. And for the New York Rangers, points are usually abundant.

Whether it’s John Tortorella, Alain Vigneault, or even Tom Renney, the 100-point threshold is usually a realistic target during the Henrik Lundqvist era. Such is the case this season even with The King playing down and the Blueshirts remaining completely inconsistent after a torrid offensive beginning to the campaign.

Now that they’ve faltered a bit, they simply cannot blame it on injuries.

Truthfully, isn’t fair to call out the Rangers here. Never does AV or his squad blame injuries as a reason for play. This is the case despite three major forwards missing serious time, in Rick Nash, Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich.

The fans, on the other hand, are all about the injuries.

It’s nothing unexpected. When a franchise performs at a level the Rangers have over the course of a decade-plus, the fanbase suddenly puffs up. After so much playoff success coupled with thrilling moments sure to last awhile, the organization and its future hall of fame goalie can do no wrong.

Don’t be one of those fans. Hold your guys to a higher standard.

There isn’t a player this side of Alex Ovechkin who deserves a Stanley Cup more than Lundqvist. Not only has he been the Patrick Ewing of hockey, he’s now the all-time winningest European goalie in NHL history.

The Rangers need to get it right before the clock strikes midnight, even in the face of adversity.

Sure, Nash, Zibs and Buch are top-flight scorers, but does that mean inconsistency needs to be the theme over the last two months? It’s not like Lundqvist or the red-hot Antti Raanta are hurt. Ryan McDonagh, for all of his injury problems, began the season with full health and looking better than ever. Brady Skjei and Nick Holden have been wonders along the blueline.

Injuries cannot be blamed for such a poor defensive structured game on a nightly basis.

To Vigneault’s credit, he understands what’s unfolding before his very eyes. He immediately took to blasting his team following the bitterly disappointing 4-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night — the team who’s dead last in the Eastern Conference, via Dan Martin of the New York Post.

“I don’t want to take anything away from the opposition, but there’s no doubt we didn’t do a good enough job in preparing our team for tonight’s game,” Vigneault said after the Rangers were roughed up in a 4-1 defeat to the Sabres in front of a stunned crowd at Madison Square Garden.

“I’ve mentioned it many times that there are no easy games in this league and we weren’t ready when the game started.”

The captain chimed in as well:

“They outworked us there in the first, no question about it,” Ryan McDonagh said. “There’s no excuse for that. We prepare ourselves for every game and we didn’t do that tonight. It’s a lesson learned.”

Sure, effort and execution are wondrous when it’s there. We saw it from jump street when New York was putting up five goals a game.

The problem? Goal-scoring isn’t everything.

So when goal-scorers like Nash, Zibs and Buch go down via injury, the offense cannot overcome such an average to below-average defensive team.

Ranking 23rd in the league in shots on goals against per game (28.9) and only out-shooting the opponent a mere 0.2 shots a night is an alarm with bells and whistles signalling something isn’t quite right. In this league, one that rewards grittiness and defense come tournament time, these Rangers need to find a certain attitude that’ll translate into some sort of defensive prowess — despite any injury.

The Chicago Blackhawks didn’t complain when stud Jonathan Toews went down for several weeks. They’re still sitting atop the Central Division.

Injuries in a physical sport like hockey will come aplenty.

Fans just need to hop on board with Vigneault and the New York Rangers in understanding that it cannot be an excuse.

There are viable inconsistencies with this team that aren’t disappearing anytime soon.

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