During their modest four-game streak of earning at least one point, the Rangers talked a lot about how they were rounding into form after struggling to find an identity for most of the season.
They'll need to come up with a new story after Monday night's 4-3 loss to the Maple Leafs. While the team showed some spine by rallying for two goals to tie the game in the third period, their work outside of that spurt left much to be desired.
Each of the Toronto goals came about because of the kind of devastating defensive breakdown that has become one of this team's calling cards. You had defensemen chasing pucks instead of covering the backside of plays and Toronto forwards camped out at the top of the crease without any Rangers doing anything to clear them out of trouble spots.
Dan Girardi and Michael Del Zotto were the biggest culprits on the night. Both were on the ice for all three Toronto goals at even strength, continuing a season-long trend that has seen the formerly fearsome Rangers defense play at a less effective level across the board than we'd grown accustomed to seeing.
It's become something of a broken record to keep harping on the ways that this year's team falls short when it comes to the physicality and attention to detail that were hallmarks last season, but there really isn't too much more to say when your team gives up a goal 39 seconds after tying the game halfway through the third period. When you don't finish every check and fight every battle to its last breath, you leave the door open and Toronto walked right through it on Monday night.
That's a shame because a win on Monday would have kept moving up to fifth open as a possibility for the Rangers. Now they'll likely have to settle for a shot at sixth or seventh, assuming they can hold off the Devils and others behind them in the standings.
It's also a shame because the breakdowns wasted another monster night for Rick Nash, who scored twice and played half the third period because he was again the best player on the ice. One of the strangest twists of this season has been that the Rangers have disappointed even as their boldest acquisition of the year has been exactly the kind of player that the team was hoping to add to the lineup.
One guy isn't going to do it all by himself, though, and Nash's teammates weren't up to the task on Monday night. With nine games left, they need to actually show that mojo they were talking about or it will make for some sleepless nights before playoff tickets are handed out.