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panic! at the garden

It’s Just About Time to Hit the Panic Button on the Rangers Season

As badly as the Rangers have played over the past two months (and at times, they've played spectacularly badly), we've fully expected them to turn things around. Why? In part, it's because, even as currently assembled, this team should be better than it is. But mostly, it's because we've seen this movie before: a couple of months of uninspired hockey at mid-season, followed by a furious push that gets them into the playoffs. Usually, this is accomplished by acquiring Sean Avery. But whatever the impetus is this time (trading Sean Avery for the sole purpose of reacquiring him, perhaps?), we just assumed that at some point, they'd find some catalyst to start them on their road to the postseason. We're no longer so sure about that.

Last night, the Rangers were embarrassed on home ice in a 2–1 loss to the Islanders. Coach John Tortorella, apparently at his breaking point, capped the evening with one of his profanity-laced press conferences. In it, he said the following, perfect quote: "I wish I could give you a [bleeping] explanation about it. I can't."

And that's exactly it. It's not as simple as just needing stronger performances out of their defensemen, or more scoring from the second and third lines, or a more consistent power play, or world-class goaltending that wins them games they'd otherwise have no business winning. It's all of these things, and more.

Tonight, they conclude a home-and-home with the Islanders, who, while no longer the divisional doormats they once were, hadn't been playing particularly well of late, either. Getting swept would mean hitting rock bottom — and with goalie Chad "Don't Call Me Ochocinco" Johnson poised to make his NHL debut, it's an entirely possible scenario. We're not sure how a team can go from a 7–1 start to this so quickly, but it's happening before our very eyes. We wish we could give you a bleeping explanation. But we can't.

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Photo: iStockphoto, the NHL