NEW YORK — You couldn’t necessarily hear Jacob Trouba all the way up at the top of Madison Square Garden, given he’d just finished his second fight after his second big, legal hit of the night late in the second period.
But you could certainly read his lips as he heaved his helmet against the boards on his way to the dressing room.
“Wake the f— up!”
In the end, none of it had enough of an effect. Not the hits, not the fights and not the shouting. The Rangers lost for the fifth time in their last six despite doing enough good things to at least get the attention of Gerard Gallant.
But, as Trouba noted, it’s a results league. The Rangers aren’t getting the results even when they control play for much of the game, as they did Saturday. But with a 70-42 shot attempt edge and four more posts hit, the only thing that remains is a 5-2 loss to a team that came in on an 0-7-1 slide. And now the Rangers are 11-10-5, 4-6-4 at home and finding new ways to lose games they absolutely have to win.
Gallant said he saw more “compete” than against the Senators on Friday, when the Rangers coughed up a one-goal lead in the final minute and lost in overtime. There was probably more of a sustained effort than in Monday’s loss to the red-hot Devils, who overwhelmed the Rangers after falling behind 2-0 early. And the Rangers had more pushback than they did when they blew a 3-0 lead in the third period to the Oilers a week ago.
But all those games have one thing in common: The Rangers didn’t win any of them. And now, with just about one-third of the season gone, the time to inject some life into a team that doesn’t seem to have 60 minutes worth of energy, will or key saves is growing ever shorter.
“You need to win hockey games,” Trouba said. “It’s an emotional game, you need to play with some emotion, some energy. It’s not just going to happen — you need to go make it happen. I think we could use a little bit more of that.”
The Rangers did respond after Trouba’s second hit, second fight, first f-bomb (that we all saw, anyway) and first helmet toss. Jonathan Toews got an instigator for charging at Trouba, and Mika Zibanejad converted on the power play to cut the Rangers’ deficit to 3-1 entering the third.
Wind it up ➡️ in. pic.twitter.com/gcgizMe0LM
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) December 4, 2022
Once there, Vincent Trocheck hit the post a little over a minute in, the 10th post Trocheck has hit this season, far and away the NHL leader in that dubious category. But Artemi Panarin misplayed a puck along the wall in the Hawks zone, Chicago chipped it out and Trouba hooked Patrick Kane to prevent a two-on-one. Taylor Raddysh tipped Kane’s wrister about waist-high past Jaroslav Halak for the Hawks’ third power-play goal of the game and that was basically that.
There are plenty of details to clean up. Chicago’s first goal came off a Libor Hajek turnover and another high deflection from the slot, a play that seems to be working an awful lot against the Rangers this season. “You need to get in the shooting lanes up high,” Gallant said.
But the main thread through these losses, aside from the zero points earned in many of them, is too many missing efforts. Alexis Lafrenière played a season-low 12:09 and was a non-factor; same with Kaapo Kakko, who got more ice time (14:54) but didn’t do much with it. Zac Jones went to Hartford earlier Saturday to get some top-pair minutes in the AHL for a few days, and Hajek didn’t exactly seize the day with less competition for the No. 6 D spot.
Halak gave up four goals on 20 shots and needed to make a big save or two. Panarin had two assists and certainly wanted to outduel his old friend Kane but ended up whiffing on a couple of key plays in the third. Filip Chytil missed the game with a lower-body injury and the middle two lines, with Trocheck back between Panarin and Vitali Kravtsov and Barclay Goodrow between Lafrenière and Kakko, were the two worst trios in the game.
When the Rangers need a zig, they zag. When they get good net-front position, the puck comes off the opposite side into a scoring spot. Their defensive-zone turnovers have led directly to goals at least once a game in the last few losses. Their team’s .901 save percentage is respectable, still in the top half of the league, but their goalies don’t get the big save at the big moment.
They are out of sorts and running out of time to fix this. Would a trade help? Kane’s lone visit to the Garden this season prompted some thoughts of seeing No. 88 in Ranger blue, but they may not be able to wait that long to start making major roster fixes. Gallant’s seat is plenty warm, but Chris Drury pulling the trigger on his coach after 108 games has to be the exact right call — most GMs only get one chance at a coaching change. If Barry Trotz is walking through that door in a matter of weeks, Drury is all-in with owner James Dolan.
Something has to give. The Rangers are missing plenty of details, but the bigger picture is a lack of cohesion, a lack of fire and plenty of bad luck. Trouba made his declaration clear Saturday. His teammates have to heed the call or something’s going to give.
(Photo of Jacob Trouba: Jared Silber / NHLI via Getty Images)