The time for the New York Rangers to establish consistency is now. It needs to start Thursday night against the Buffalo Sabres, the worst team — at least record-wise — in the NHL with 14 points. The Rangers’ recent pattern of winning one game and losing the next has not only infuriated the fans but the team and coaching staff, too. A loss to this team would be a total disaster for the Rangers.
The Rangers are fortunate they play in such a weak conference. At 14-14-0, they remain in eighth place in the Eastern Conference and third in the Metropolitan Division. If they played in the much more powerful Western Conference they would be eight points out of a playoff spot right now. Good teams beat the teams they should beat, and the Sabres are a team the Rangers should beat.
Unfortunately, Buffalo does not provide the most ideal matchup. They still have a world-class goaltender in Ryan Miller, toughness and a scoring touch with Steve Ott and Matt Moulson, and an able defense led by Henrik Tallinder and Tyler Myers. If the Rangers fall behind early, how will they react? Rangers coach Alain Vigneault is putting his best players on the spot, calling on them to step up and lead the Rangers to the next level. If they can’t start playing that way on Thursday, will they ever?
Henrik Lundqvist is expected to be back in goal a day after signing his long-awaited contract extension. Him, captain Ryan Callahan, Rick Nash, Brad Richards and Carl Hagelin are among the players Vigneault is challenging. At least two or three of this group needs to lead their team to wins not only against bottom-feeders but against the rest of the league. It’s time to see what this team is made of. Losing to the Winnipeg Jets last Monday was bad enough, and it angered the team and Vigneault. A loss to Buffalo would be disastrous. The players talk the talk about turning their season around, and now it’s time to walk the walk.