There was a moment in the third period in Ottawa on Thursday night when it seemed like the Rangers had stumbled onto the spark of life that has eluded them all this season.
After sleepwalking through more than two periods, Ryan Callahan and Ryan McDonagh scored goals 51 seconds apart to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead over a Senators team that had just been forced to replace goalie Craig Anderson because of an injury. It looked like a chance to steal two points on the road with Rick Nash out of the lineup, exactly the kind of thing that you'd expect to bring out the determined Ranger effort we've been missing.
It never happened. Brian Boyle took a bad penalty, the Senators scored on the ensuing power play and the Rangers had to settle for a consolation point when Henrik Lundqvist misplayed a whiff in the shootout to give the Senators a 3-2 win.
Given how ineffectual the Rangers were for the other 64 minutes and nine seconds of the game, getting the point is an outcome you'll take on the road. The fact that the team has to content itself with those kinds of backhanded accomplishments says plenty about how this season has unfolded.
Consistently getting two points requires consistently playing with discipline and edge. The Rangers haven't done that this year at all.
Injuries are part of it. Callahan was out, Nash is out and Michael Del Zotto went out with what looked like a hip injury on Thursday night.
Brad Richards is playing like he's not 100 percent physically and Thursday night was another terrible performance for a player that the Rangers expect to be one of their leaders this and every season. Injuries can't explain everything, though.
They can't explain the glaring turnovers that sink the team almost every night and they can't explain the lack of backbone that would have enabled the Rangers to defend their surprising lead halfway through the third period. It's been 16 games and there's still no discernible sign that the Rangers have the fortitude to do what it takes to win games on a nightly basis.
The calender keeps moving, but it feels like the same story every single night. Unlike last year, that's not a good thing for the Rangers.