Suddenly the lockout isn't looking quite so bad.
The Rangers were sloppy again on Thursday night in Philadelphia and wound up losing 2-1 to a Flyers team playing without three of their top forwards, giving them three losses in the first four games of the season. The game looked a lot like the other two losses.
The Rangers blew a 5-on-3 power play, showed very little fight for 50/50 pucks and got almost nothing from the third or fourth lines on the rare occasions that John Tortorella deigned to play them. The All-Star first line they rode to a win against Boston on Wednesday produced nothing and the rest of the Rangers couldn't pick up the slack.
Not included in that group is Chris Kreider, the rookie whose playoff debut last year birthed thoughts of a Calder Trophy campaign and a big role on the Rangers this season. Kreider was a healthy scratch on Thursday night amid talk that he could be shipped to the AHL for more seasoning.
While we're not surprised to see Tortorella go this route after watching him do the same to far more experienced players, we are a bit dismayed to see things going this way so soon into a season that's going to progress rapidly. Tortorella's message is obviously that there's no time to play your way into things this year, although we're not sure how he's going to be able to send it to everyone who needs to hear it while still fielding a full team.
It's not just Kreider who is failing to live up to expectations. Carl Hagelin and Brian Boyle were expected to be a big part of the top nine forwards and both have been invisible through four games while the defensive corps has been merely average instead of providing the excellent play we grew accustomed to seeing last season.
Last year's Rangers team fought for every inch of the rink, giving them an identity and character that they used to reach the Eastern Conference finals. There's been very little of that identity on the ice through four games this season, something that's more worrisome than just losing games.
Sloppiness is something you'd expect after such a long layoff and so little practice. The inner fight and competitiveness, however, is something that's either going to be there or it isn't.
So far, it's been missing and that's why the Rangers have lost three of four. Tortorella's going to have to keep pulling strings until he finds the one that brings that old spirit back or it's going to start getting late early at the Garden.