NEW YORK -- It would be easier for the New York Rangers to deal with their current three-game losing streak if they could focus on correctable issues that have only recently popped up. The problem, as center Derick Brassard indicated, is the losing streak is the result of a season-long struggle that was previously masked by excellent goaltending and luck.
"We haven't really found our game since we started the season," Brassard said. "We found a way to win, but we just have to focus out there on the way we want to play, our structure, and we have to be harder to play against. If we do that, we're going to give ourselves a better chance to win, but we're also going to feel better about ourselves."
The Rangers enter their game against the Carolina Hurricanes at Madison Square Garden on Monday ranked 29th in shot-attempts percentage (45.8), 28th in shots against per game (31.6), 21st in faceoff percentage (49.4) and 30th in 5-on-5 scoring chance differential (minus-94, according to War-on-Ice.com).
They were, however, 13-1-1 in 15 games before this losing streak began with a 5-1 loss against the Montreal Canadiens last Wednesday. They have since lost 4-3 to the Boston Bruins and 3-0 to the Philadelphia Flyers. They were outshot 34-27 by the Bruins and 34-24 by the Flyers.
New York has been outshot in 11 of its past 18 games and in 15 of 24 games this season.
Carolina is first in the NHL in shots-against per game (25.4) and second in SAT percentage (54.11).
"We have maybe the best goaltender in the world [Henrik Lundqvist], but we can't rely on him every night," Brassard said. "If it was two or three games it would be different, but now it's 20-something games. This stretch has been going on way too long."
To fix it, Brassard said the Rangers have to stop cheating for offense, handle the puck better, and start defending better, whether it's on the forecheck or coming back into the zone with pressure to help out the defensemen and limit the Grade A scoring chances against.
"I feel that we try to win games 6-5 or higher scoring, but the success that we had the last couple years came when we defended well for the full 60 minutes, the whole game," Brassard said. "We have to go back to that, to have that mentality of defending first. When you're not cheating and you're playing tight, playing good as a unit of five out there, scoring chances are going to come. We still have to push. We still have to play. We still have to try to score a goal, but we have to be smarter about it. Everything that is going on here, I think it's our mindset. We have to have a better mindset.
"Even though we were winning, I don't think we were feeling really good. We knew we were kind of lucky and we found a way to win, but we want to feel better and go from there."
Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said he expects to get the Rangers' best shot Monday because of how they've struggled lately, and because a day off for New York on Sunday might have gotten the players thinking about what they weren't doing rather than sulking.
"I think they're going to be very motivated to have a good night," Peters said. "Their last game at home they didn't score, so they'll be energized and trying to get the ship righted."
Here are the projected lineups:
Eric Staal - Victor Rask - Elias Lindholm
Jeff Skinner - Riley Nash - Kris Versteeg
Joakim Nordstrom - Jordan Staal - Andrej Nestrasil
Brad Malone - Jay McClement - Chris Terry
Ron Hainsey - Justin Faulk
John-Michael Liles - Brett Pesce
Noah Hanifin - Jaccob Slavin
Injured: Nathan Gerbe (ankle), James Wisniewski (left knee)
Scratched: Michal Jordan
Rick Nash - Derick Brassard - Mats Zuccarello
Chris Kreider - Oscar Lindberg - Jesper Fast
J.T. Miller - Kevin Hayes - Viktor Stalberg
Dominic Moore - Jarret Stoll - Emerson Etem
Ryan McDonagh - Kevin Klein
Marc Staal - Dan Boyle
Keith Yandle - Dan Girardi
Injured: Derek Stepan (ribs)
Scratched: Dylan McIlrath, Jayson Megna
Status report: Ward will start for the Hurricanes after getting pulled in their 4-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Friday. Peters said he pulled Ward to try to get a spark out of his team, but wants to go right back to him. … Boyle is back in the Rangers' lineup for McIlrath after being a healthy scratch for two games. Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said he put Boyle back in the lineup in part to help the Rangers' power play against the Hurricanes, who are 25th in the NHL on the penalty kill. … Vigneault said Stepan will miss 4-6 weeks with broken ribs. … The Rangers recalled Megna from Hartford of the American Hockey League.
Who's hot: Nash has six goals in the past five games, but like the rest of his team, he was held off the scoresheet against the Flyers on Saturday. … Lindholm has points in four straight games (1-3-4).