If we told you before the season that the Rangers would reach the middle of March out of playoff position, you probably would assume some combination of terrible developments had struck Ryan Callahan, Rick Nash and Henrik Lundqvist.
Maybe injuries or perhaps an inexplicable decline in play, but it seemed impossible to imagine a Rangers season going off the rails if those three were doing their jobs. Callahan and Nash have both missed a handful of games and Lundqvist has been something slightly less than his best on plenty of nights, but those three have still consistently been the best things about the Rangers on a nightly basis.
And yet Thursday's 3-1 loss to the Jets knocked the Rangers into ninth place in the Eastern Conference, which means they'd be pressed up to the glass and staring forlornly at the playoffs if they started today. The blame for that can't totally avoid the three players listed above, but the issues are much worse with the other parts of the team.
The grinders don't grind, the vaunted defensemen of last season have gone from Norris Trophy contenders to largely invisible and the energy level usually doesn't rise much beyond a cat sunning itself on a windowsill. At some point, you have to wonder how much longer things can remain that way without the stain falling onto John Tortorella.
No coach can ever play for his players, so you can only level so much blame at Tortorella for the miserable performance of Brad Richards or the way Marian Gaborik seems to only occasionally check in on planet Earth for games. But the energy level, the mental mistakes and the team's general inability to find the right gear do land at Tortorella's feet.
The fans in Winnipeg threw some taunting chants at the Rangers coach near the end of Thursday's game, a reminder that Canadian fans really know how to bring the good stuff, and Tortorella played dumb when asked about them after the game.
It's going to be tough for him to keep playing dumb if his team keeps playing dumb, though, and he may be running short on levers to pull to get the team heading in the right direction.
There are 44 points left for the Rangers to win this season, so turnarounds aren't impossible. Without one, it wouldn't be surprising to see someone else's hand on the lever.