When the Rangers lost their last game before the All-Star break, no one really batted an eye because reinforcements were on the way and the team still had a nice cushion for a playoff spot.
Turns out, that loss to the Panthers was the canary in the coal mine. The Rangers have gotten a bunch of players back from injury but it has done nothing to help the team win games. They have lost all four games since the break, five in a row overall, and are just four points clear of the ninth-place Thrashers in the East.
Monday's loss to the Red Wings followed the familiar script. The Rangers fell behind and trailed entering the third period for the 13th time in the last 18 games, rallied and then ulimately fell short despite getting a ton of opportunities. They got 47 shots on goal and spent the final four minutes of the game on the power play, but they still lost 3-2 and didn't earn a point.
After the game, the Rangers players blamed their defensive breakdowns on Detroit goals for the loss. True enough, but right now any team playing them just needs to bide their time because the Rangers can't win games on their own. The team has scored 13 goals in the last eight games, which would be a poor total for a soccer team. It's great that they got a lot of shots and that they worked their tails off, but the point of the game remains scoring more goals than the other side. You can't do that when you squander power play after power play, including some 5-on-3 time during that game-ending attempt to tie the score.
And you can't wonder how the team can fail so mightily on offense without looking in Marian Gaborik's direction. On a team filled with hard workers of modest skill, Gaborik stands out as a guy who needs to achieve in order for the team to be anything more than mediocre. He's now got 16 goals in 42 games, with 10 of those goals coming in three games. Those aren't elite stats, not even close, and Gaborik seems to be moving backward now. He was invisible on Monday, especially on those power plays when he should be cashing in opportunities and leading his team to a victory.
After so many years of Ranger teams that didn't bother to play hard, it's been great to see one that does their job with so much vigor. Despite what high school coaches tell you, though, working hard isn't enough. You need talent too and the Rangers' talent is letting the team down right now.