The thing about this Rangers team that is drastically different than years past is a self-awareness throughout the lineup that allows it to respond to hardship.
It has shown in the ability to go through 59 games this season without once losing three in a row in regulation, with only one stretch of three consecutive losses dating back to November, when they still picked up points in back-to-back overtime games against the Canucks and Oilers.
Coming off two of the most disheartening losses of the season at Minnesota and St. Louis, in which they were out-hustled in embarrassing fashion, the Rangers responded Saturday night against the Stars with a 7-4 victory that could’ve gone the other way had the club given up after another poor first period.
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Looking back to last season, the Rangers were more likely to collapse under such circumstances. The Blueshirts are now an impressive 14-6-2 following a regulation or overtime defeat this season. During the truncated 2020-21 campaign, they compiled a 9-12-2 record after any sort of loss.
“I don’t know if we needed the message from our coach,” forward Dryden Hunt said after the win Saturday, referring to how head coach Gerard Gallant firmly expressed his disappointment with the team’s recent play.
“I think the one great thing about this team is that it comes from within ourselves. We have a lot of pride in that room. It was tough to lose those two games — not just losing, but the way we lost. We just had no response, so it was nice to play the way we did.”
Between Gallant’s don’t-sweat-the-small-stuff mentality and the group leadership effort from the six alternate captains, the Rangers have had a short-term memory all season long. It is a trait the Rangers will need to maintain as they push for an optimal playoff position down the stretch, and into the postseason.
The surprising decision to name six alternates in Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin, Jacob Trouba, Barclay Goodrow and Ryan Strome instead of one captain has catered to the identity the Rangers are trying to establish. It has seemingly done wonders for the team dynamic.
The one-for-all, all-for-one way of thinking has had the Rangers on the same page almost all the time.
“Something we’ve been good at all year is when a team does have a good push, we’re able to nip that in the bud and have our own push and we haven’t had that the last couple games so we need to get back to that,” said top-line winger Chris Kreider, who has had an ‘A’ sewn on his jersey the last four seasons. “That’s been a staple for us. I think that level of poise, knowing that the other teams got good players, they’re going to make plays, stuff’s going to happen. But kind of water off the duck’s back as opposed to letting that build and letting frustration creep into our game.
“Another team has good stretch or a good push, we’ve been able to refocus over the course of the year so we need to be able to get back to that.”
Zibanejad, who has been an alternate captain as long as Kreider has been, noted that the Rangers need to keep their game simple when it feels like things aren’t going their way. Playing together and helping each other out, he said, will prevent the Rangers from trying to do too much.
“It starts with me,” Kreider said. “It starts with all of our veteran guys.”
The Rangers assigned Tim Gettinger back to AHL Hartford on Sunday.