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Lundqvist alone can't save Rangers

New York's early-season struggles go beyond play of goaltender

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Correspondent

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Here is what the New York Rangers would love to have happen at Madison Square Garden Tuesday:

Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, after sitting the past two games to spend a week of working on the details of his game with goaltending coach Benoit Allaire, returns to the net against the Vegas Golden Knights (7 p.m. ET; SN1, MSG, ATTSN-RM, NHL.TV), finds his balance, prevents his team from getting off to another shaky start, makes the timely saves and steers the wayward ship back into calm waters with a vintage performance and a win.

"He's going to be ready," coach Alain Vigneault said Monday.

He should be and Lundqvist is good enough to be the difference. But it's not that simple. 

Lundqvist's return, although appropriate after Ondrej Pavelec started the past two games, a 5-2 win against the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday and a 5-4 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday, can't be looked at as the elixir to cure all that ails the Rangers, who are 3-7-2.

Good goaltending gives a team a chance to win. The expectation is that Lundqvist should at least do that despite a 2-4-2 record and a .900 save percentage which was 22nd among the 29 goalies who have appeared in at least seven games entering Tuesday.

Video: SJS@NYR: Lundqvist flashes the leather on breakaway

But their issues go deeper than goaltending. The team's psyche seems fractured, especially after hearing defenseman Marc Staal talk about the problems they've had at the start of games, the latest display coming in their loss against the Canadiens.

The Rangers trailed 3-0 and were outshot 19-2 in the first period

"It's obviously a mental thing going into [games] for us," Staal said. "We're just not in the right frame of mind to start the game and it's causing us to get outplayed. We're giving up some goals and we're playing from behind a lot. You come into the locker room and it's the same room, the same things are being said, the same types of things going into the game where you're feeling good about it, and then it just doesn't happen on the ice. So I think individually we've got to change some things, focus more and make sure we're ready to go from the start of the game."

"Collective disarray" is how Vigneault described it. 

That the Rangers came back to make it a game against Montreal was of little consequence for a team that has struggled to find its game at the start of what Vigneault estimated to be nine of their 12 games.

The Rangers have been outscored 18-12 in the first period, including 9-4 in the first 10 minutes. Five times they've allowed the first goal in the first three minutes, and they're 0-3-2 in those five games.

"When you're playing from behind you play differently," Staal said. "You've got to get back in the game so you've got to be more aggressive and your mindset changes where you get more desperate. We've got to have that mindset to start the game. We can't just have it when we're behind. It doesn't work that way. You're not going to win games that way."

Vigneault, asked what he can do differently to buck the trend of bad starts, said the coaching staff is constantly showing players the tendencies of the opposition to give them an understanding of what they're up against and telling them what they do to take advantage.

Video: SJS@NYR: Lundqvist turns away Donskoi in close

"We're giving them all that information," Vigneault said. "At the end of the day, players have the responsibility to get themselves ready to compete and execute. That's in any sport, not just in this sport but in any sport. We give them the information we feel is important and they've got to go out and execute. And obviously in the last game [against Montreal], that execution and that compete level was not nearly good enough in that first period. There's nothing we can do about it now. We've got to focus on the next game and that's what we're trying to do."

And so the focus turns to Lundqvist and his return to the net. 

The last time he played was Oct. 23, when he allowed four goals on 24 shots in a 4-1 home loss to the San Jose Sharks. Logan Couture scored on a shot that deflected in at 1:56 of the first period. Lundqvist then allowed two goals because of what he admitted were bad reads.

"Everybody understands their role," Lundqvist said. "Mine is to stop pucks and try to make a difference when the team needs me. That's something I need to really focus on right now and try to be there for the other guys." 

Lundqvist is going back into the net to put a stop to the problems and to get his team a win, but it'll take a full team effort for that to happen. It'll take it happening more than once per week to mend the Rangers' collective psyche.

Video: NSH@NYR: Lundqvist flashes his pad to rob Fiala

"Every guy in the room, we need to be more locked in and more glued in to when the puck drops," Staal said. "That's a mindset thing. That's a mental thing. We can all be better in that area."

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