Character counts in the NHL. The injury-ravaged Rangers showed plenty of that in Thursday’s 3-2 shootout win over the Philadelphia Flyers.
Colin Blackwell, Brendan Smith, Julien Gauthier, and Kevin Rooney have taken up the responsibility as unexpected goal-getters, while the Rangers’ most recognizable, highly-paid talents have been a combination of snake-bitten, struggling, or downright sluggish.
While character and contributions from role players are crucial elements of a successful hockey club, the 5-7-3 Blueshirts truly need their star men to rediscover their groove.
That means Artemi Panarin, who rifled off eight shots on goal in Thursday’s contest, finding some form of luck. That means Chris Kreider cutting out the undisciplined penalties and playing more purposeful hockey than what’s amounted to just one point in past six games. That means Mika Zibanejad shaking off the rust that’s only allowed him to register one goal and two assists through 15 games. That means greater consistency from Ryan Strome, who only has one assist to his name in the past five games.
At the end of the day, character can only get a team so far. Over the past five games, the Rangers have scored only six regulation goals. No matter how bruised or unlucky the Rangers have been, that’s plain unacceptable from a professional hockey club – especially one that pays just a shade below $28 million annually to the aforementioned foursome of Panarin, Kreider, Zibanejad, and Strome.
An isolated character win against a depleted version of the Flyers does not change the amount of pressure that this team and their coach are under. No one expected this youngish Rangers team to establish itself among the Eastern Division’s heavyweights, but it was fair to expect progress and the identifying of long-term solutions as part of an uphill climb out of a multiyear rebuild.
When all is said and done, this season can’t turn into another tankathon for a third top-two lottery pick in three years. This season has to be about the Rangers getting closer to their long-term aim of contention. This front office and head coach must be able to point to clear results at season’s end.
That doesn’t have to come in the form of a playoff berth, but the bare minimum is something that fans can hang their hat on – some form of genuine progress and proof that head coach David Quinn is capable of guiding this team through choppy waters, or the front office realizing that changes are in order if the ship is sinking.
Without direction and without progress, the Rangers will continue to be lost at sea among the NHL’s also-rans.
Follow Sean Hartnett on Twitter: @HartnettHockey