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Rangers believe rough start can lead to positive long-term results

Players, coach confident success will come with improved 5-on-5 play, more assertiveness in offensive zone

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Forward Rick Nash and coach Alain Vigneault said almost the same thing regarding the New York Rangers' slow start after practice Monday.

What looks bad now, five regulation losses in their first six games (1-5-0), will help them build character to make them better, will allow the leadership group to exert itself to bring the team closer, and will lead to them creating the identity needed to succeed.

"Usually when you get through things like this you come out stronger," Nash said.

That's the positive outlook. There's always the flip side, that this dreadful start is the beginning of a devastating season for a team with high expectations, the kind that drives coaches out of town and makes players vulnerable to changes too.

No one, obviously, is ready to contemplate the worst just yet.

"We're being challenged," Vigneault said. "We're facing some adversity as a group. But the solution lies in that [locker] room."

The Rangers need to find solutions to several problems if they're going to make their start look like an early season slump and nothing more. Their next chance comes against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; MSG, ATTSN-PT, TVA Sports, NHL.TV).

Video: NJD@NYR: Nash, Desharnais combine for pretty goal

New York also is home against the New York Islanders on Thursday, the Nashville Predators on Saturday and next week against the San Jose Sharks and the Arizona Coyotes. It's part of a stretch of 18 home games in their first 26 games of the season.

The schedule was supposed to allow the Rangers to get off to a strong start. Now they're just hoping to get their season righted before it goes off the rails completely.

"You come in with high hopes, and especially with our homestand we wanted to get off to a good start," Nash said. "We put ourselves in a bit of a hole here so it's definitely a shock. But at the same time it's reality. We have to deal with it and try to get out of it."

The first and most important step is addressing their 5-on-5 scoring, or lack thereof. Solving that would solve a lot of the Rangers' issues.

The Rangers have six 5-on-5 goals, three of which came in their 8-5 loss at the Toronto Maple Leafs on Oct. 7.

"We're not generating enough 5-on-5 scoring chances in tight," forward J.T. Miller said. "All the goals that we seem to get is when we find a way to get on the inside and get to the net. That was one of our points of emphasis [in practice Monday], getting to the net. The [defensemen] are trying to box you out all the time, but you should try to box the [defensemen] out and make it your area."

Video: NYR@TOR: Miller sends home rebound to tie the game

Miller believes the Rangers have been waiting for a play instead of making one happen.

"You can't look for an easy way on every play," he said. "You can't just hope pucks come to you. You can't hope that someone pinches and gets caught and you get all this time and space with the puck because everybody can defend and every team is good. You don't get many inside looks anymore. You have to create those, go to the net and do it the hard way. That's where the goals are scored."

Nash said the Rangers are struggling with their five-man forecheck, which has been disjointed, making it easier for teams to break out against them, and with their 1-on-1 battles for the puck. They're not winning enough, he said.

"We have spurts where we've been good, but too many other spurts where we haven't been good and it's been hurting us," he said.

Nash also said the forwards aren't assisting the defensemen on breakouts.

"Our [defensemen have] the puck and they've got no open man," he said. "I think in the past few years when we were at our best, we would 'D' up, chip it in and get in on that forecheck. That's the plan the coaches are putting forward. It's a matter of the players following it."

Vigneault put some of the onus on the defensemen, saying they need to not just lead the breakout but be part of the attack more than they have been.

"If you look at [Nash's] goal in the last game, it was off a faceoff," he said. "But then there was a down-low play, and the reason the down-low play happened was [Tony] DeAngelo jumped in. He caused some confusion in their [defensive] zone. We need more of that. We need more of that from our defensive corps. If we do that, then those 5-on-5 scoring opportunities will be of better quality and we'll be able to finish."

Video: NJD@NYR: Shattenkirk buries long-range one-timer

Finishing has been a huge problem too. The Rangers entered play Monday 26th in the League in 5-on-5 shooting percentage at 4.3. They're also 26th in all-situation shooting percentage at 6.5. The League average is 9.4 percent.

"We need more consistency and to just play smart," Miller said. "We know the right way. I'm not panicking or worried at all."

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