Any hope of a quick change in fortunes for the Rangers died a pretty hard death on Saturday afternoon against the Penguins.
The team couldn't score a single goal on their way to a 3-0 loss to Pittsburgh, a result that dropped the Rangers below the Islanders in the standings and farther from the playoff position that everyone took for granted when the season started.
It was the latest in a series of flat performances for a team that used to play with a surplus of fire, which makes it easy to understand why questions are mounting about whether John Tortorella is still reaching the team.
There are various schools of thought on the topic, but it's become clear that Tortorella is grasping at straws at this point. After last week's loss to Buffalo, Tortorella ripped the team apart in what could only be an attempt to spur a more emotional effort the next time out.
It didn't work. The Rangers were lifeless in Winnipeg and again against the Penguins, which leads to the conclusion that Tortorella's rant fell on deaf ears or ones that had already tuned out their coach.
Unless, of course, it's just a question of what this team is missing at its core after allowing several key water carriers from last year's team to leave over the offseason. After all, if a team captained by Ryan Callahan and featuring a leader like Henrik Lundqvist isn't able to find the right gear over and over again, how can that all fall on the coach?
The argument for that is that Tortorella may not be willing to put his players in the right position to succeed. Marian Gaborik has not produced, but he's also been playing left wing after making his bones as an NHL lamplighter on the other side.
Chris Kreider had a similar experience when he was up with the big club earlier this year. Every mistake was magnified and playing time would be slashed without notice, something that can't possibly help a young player trying to find his footing at the highest level.
Both of these players have failed on the execution front, but it is hard to say how much the failures have been on them and how much were a function of circumstances thrust upon them. And that's the question that keeps coming up with these Rangers.
Are they underachieving or are they being led by a man who can no longer find the right strings to pull? The latter is hard to believe given the carryover from last season, but the former is also tough to stomach given how good the Ranger have actually looked at points this season.
In the context of a regular season, these might be issues of growing pains. In this abbreviated season, though, the Rangers are coming perilously close to finding themselves still trying to find themselves when the curtain drops.
There will be plenty of time to figure out why that happened when the season does come to an end. There's also plenty of time to avoid those kinds of questions, but only if the Rangers start winning games.