Everyone wants this not only to work, but to work in a hurry. That, however, is not how rebuilds work in the NHL, even after securing the second-overall selection in the entry draft and signing a free-agent talent as elite as Artemi Panarin.
There are no shortcuts to success. That is something for us all to remember, but perhaps most importantly the players in the Rangers room. For taking shortcuts on the ice leads to a losing streak in which the team is outscored by an aggregate 17-5 over three games plus almost 35 minutes of the fourth.
Shortcuts lead to a second period such as Sunday’s in which the Blueshirts were out-attempted 30-9 at even strength by the Canucks. And to a reckoning during the intermission.
“We came in and got yelled at and yelled at each other a little bit,” said Ryan Strome, who was on top of his game throughout an earned 18:42. “We were getting beaten all over the ice. The defense wasn’t getting the puck up to the forwards, the forwards weren’t back-checking and helping the defense. You could point to every single guy in the room.”
Other, that is, than Henrik Lundqvist, who kept the score at 3-0 after making a bevy of saves on odd-man rushes, when, as David Quinn said, “It could have been 6-0 or more.”
But the Rangers were, to use the vernacular first employed last week by Quinn, cheating again, looking for the easy ways out. Pavel Buchnevich was benched and demoted down the depth chart after a pair of failed attempts to exit the zone through the middle created a scenario in which the Blueshirts were pinned and forced to take a penalty on which Vancouver capitalized to score a Bo Horvat power-play goal at 6:01 of the first period for a 1-0 lead.
One-nothing became 3-0 by the end of the period, Brock Boeser scoring at five-on-five at 13:34 following blunders by Brendan Smith and Marc Staal, and Jay Beagle getting the next one shorthanded at 16:53 after racing up the right side unopposed from deep in his zone.
“I think we got some poor bounces that allowed [the Canucks] to create offensive opportunities out of nothing, but the one thing you can always control is your work ethic and compete level in the battles and ours wasn’t good enough,” Brendan Lemieux said. “I think as the game went on, we found our legs and applied that work ethic.
“This group wants to win. The way we played in the third period is the formula we need to follow.”
The Rangers played with passion. They hounded the puck. They were in the Canucks’ zone, and below the hash marks, attacking the net one shift after another and building rolling momentum that enlivened the crowd that had sounded like post-trade deadline gatherings the last two seasons.
Or, as Panarin, who scored the 3-2 goal on a right-wing snipe at 5:31 of the third, said without the need of an interpreter: “We had nothing more to lose.
“We have to play all the time the way we played in the third period,” Panarin said. “Get the puck in, win battles, go hard to the net, control the puck in the offensive zone.
“The first period, those three goals, maybe we lost our confidence.”
Yes, it is true, the Rangers have young players in important roles throughout the lineup. That does not, however, give the team license to be lazy or repeatedly make mistakes in positioning or to be outworked. That, by the way, also applies individually both here and to the young’uns playing in the AHL. This is pro hockey.
Again, though, the Rangers did respond in the third period and emphatically, even if they could only score once on 17 shots against Jacob Markstrom. Chris Kreider was strong on the right with Panarin and Mika Zibanejad. The defensemen were active and decisive.
The Strome-Jesper Fast combination that had at different times Lemieux and Buchnevich on the left, was dominant. Indeed, Strome had a glorious chance off a setup in the slot from Adam Fox with 40.1 seconds remaining in the match while Lundqvist had been pulled for the extra attacker — who, by the way, was Kaapo Kakko — but could not get the shot through.
Though they fell short, the Rangers did seem to establish a foothold for themselves that could form a foundation for the season, or at least Tuesday night when the Lightning come to town.
“We have to pay attention to details and take care of our business one shift at a time,” Strome said. “We did that in the third period. That’s the template.”