Last night's Rangers game started out promising enough. Sean Avery scored an early goal on the type of play the Rangers wish they could execute more often: They controlled the puck along the boards, and Erik Christensen, from behind the net, found Avery, whose quick release from the slot beat Jose Theodore. But from that point on, Theodore — who entered the game with an 8-0-1 record in his last nine games at Madison Square Garden — was outstanding, while the Rangers, despite 41 shots, finished their three-home homestand without a point and dropped to eighth place in the East for the first time since November 13.
Making matters worse, Carolina beat Buffalo in overtime last night, meaning not only did the Hurricanes gain two points to leapfrog the Rangers into seventh place, Buffalo earned one point to pull within two points of eighth. (And Buffalo, it needs to be noted, has three games in hand on the Rangers.) The Rangers didn't lose by a single goal in this one, as they have so often of late, but plenty of other frustrating trends were on display: an inability to cash in on good opportunities, for example, or an inability to score on the power play.
And after allowing two goals eight minutes apart in the second — the first of which came with Christensen in the box for a high-sticking penalty — they once again were forced to play from behind. (Pierre-Marc Bouchard's third-period goal, off a nifty feed from Martin Havlat, simply capped another disappointing night at the Garden.) After months of playing like a team that could be a tough out in the playoffs, the Rangers have become a team that will struggle just to sneak into the postseason. Yes, this team isn't built to compete for the Cup this season, but that doesn't mean it should fall out of the playoff picture entirely.
Beginning tonight, the Rangers play three of their next four away from Madison Square Garden, a building in which they've gone just 14-16-3 this year. Perhaps that time away from home will do them some good. (By comparison, they're 19-13-1 on the road.) At this point, any advantage at all would help.