Sunday night the Rangers closed the doors to their dressing room for 20 minutes after a dispiriting 4-1 loss to the Washington Capitals at Madison Square Garden, something they had also done earlier in the year after the team's third game of the season out in San Jose. Both times players spoke among themselves after dismal efforts had led to less than satisfying results.
However there was a difference in the players once the doors opened up and reporters were allowed into the dressing room Sunday from that Tuesday night in San Jose exactly two months earlier on October 8th. Following that game against the Sharks the Rangers seemed to be in shock over their embarrassing 9-2 loss, many wearing blank looks with ashen faces. Sunday there was more emotion, much more anger flaring from the players. The message this time seemed to be Enough is Enough after 31 games of overall sub par hockey in their estimation.
"We're going to have to get a bit uncomfortable here, get out of our comfort zone, because obviously our floating along it's getting old," alternate captain Brad Richards said through gritted teeth postgame Sunday. "Win one, lose one. Win one, lose one. Whatever it is we are doing is way too comfortable."
What was actually said in the dressing room after Sunday's game will stay amongst the players, that much was clear as the Rangers were not divulging any team secrets to the assembled media. However there was most definitely a clear message being shared.
"What is said in here, stays in here," offered team captain Ryan Callahan, with an intense look in his eyes. "Everybody in here knows we need to be better and have to be better."
That night in October the season will still young, the Rangers — though undone in all facets of the game by San Jose — were still just 1-2-0 and still had a long road trip, not to mention 79 more games in the regular season, remaining ahead of them. They were shaken as a team, surrendering 47 shots and nine goals — four by rookie Tomas Hertl — and talked it over amongst themselves immediately afterwards.
Things did not immediately get better as the Rangers were blanked 6-0 by the Anaheim Ducks two nights later, but indeed the Rangers would soon turn things around, starting with their emotional 3-2 overtime win in Detroit on October 26th.
Now the Rangers seem less shaken then just plain angry at the staus quo of their season, so far. A 15-15-1 record, one that has yet to see the Rangers move more than one game over the .500 mark yet this season. As Richards said, win one, lose one.
Plain and simple, the players and their coach know it is not good enough.
"You can talk all you want, those words have to become actions on the ice," stated head coach Alain Vigneault after the game Sunday. "Right now we are a .500 hockey team. The other team scores a goal and you don't see that much of a push (from the Rangers). I firmly believe that this group is much better than that, but we're not there yet."
A lost weekend on home ice — a 4-3 overtime defeat to the Devils on Saturday after holding a 2-0 second period lead and Sunday's near-shutout loss to the Capitals — prompted the latest closed door meeting, but Vigneault's anger has been on the rise for weeks now due to the inconsistencies in his team's overall game.
With the season just about halfway over, things must change, and soon, for the Rangers, and perhaps this past weekend caught their collective attention enough.
"We know we are a good team, but we all have to be better," stated goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. "Just go to yourself and see what you can do to help this group."
Things don't always turn for the better immediately — as was the case after the San Jose defeat earlier this year — but with a nine-game homestand continuing Tuesday night with a game against the Nashville Predators, the opportunity is there for the Rangers to find that consistency in their game.
The time is most definitely now.