Coyotes left wing Lawson Crouse and Rangers defenseman Brady Skjei react after a goal by Arizona right wing Mario Kempe (not pictured) in the first period on Jan. 6, 2019, at Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona.

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Hartnett: Rangers Hit Rock Bottom In Shutout Loss To Coyotes

And 3 Tough Games Await Blueshirts This Week

Sean Hartnett
January 07, 2019 - 11:37 am
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The Rangers appear to have hit rock bottom in the desert. After suffering lopsided defeats to talent-rich opponents in the Pittsburgh Penguins and Colorado Avalanche, the Blueshirts were embarrassed by the feeble Arizona Coyotes on Sunday.

Arizona entered the contest on a three-game losing streak, and a meeting with a spiraling Rangers team was the perfect tonic to lift the 'Yotes out of their funk. The Rangers were outshot 40-23 and offered franchise goaltender Henrik Lundqvist zero help in the 5-0 defeat.

Lundqvist surrendered five goals on 32 shots and was pulled at the 16:38 mark of the second period. The 36-year-old netminder was yanked for the second straight game. Despite the Rangers’ shoddy defending and lack of push-back, it’s rare for Lundqvist to get lit up this many times in a single contest, and given his professionalism, it’s even rarer for him to opt out of speaking to the media – as was the case Sunday.

What can he say at this point? Lundqvist tends to be painstakingly self-critiquing and typically places the blame on himself when things go wrong, searching for little details to improve in his craft to lift his team. He’s not going to come out and throw his teammates under the bus. That’s not who he is, and he’d rather look internally at what extra measure he can perform to right the ship.

MORE: Hartnett: It's Painfully Obvious Rangers Are Missing A Take-Charge Leader

But the Rangers’ ship is taking on more and more water. The situation isn’t getting any easier, with the defending Western Conference champion Vegas Golden Knights next on the schedule, followed by a home-and-home with the surging Islanders. As of Monday, the Isles have rolled off six straight wins and have gone 9-1-0 in their last 10 contests. The Golden Knights have also won six in a row.

The Rangers failed to find their pulse against Pittsburgh and Colorado. They got outworked and outplayed by the injury-ravaged Coyotes on Sunday. This is an Arizona team without the services of key players Nick Schmaltz, Antti Raanta, Christian Dvorak, Michael Grabner and Jason Demers.

Keep in mind, the Coyotes are a cash-strapped organization that regularly takes on the contracts of retired and inactive players to ensure that they reach the league minimum salary cap floor. The likes of Chris Pronger, Pavel Datsyuk and Marian Hossa will never suit up for the 'Yotes, and the majority of these contracts are picked up by insurance – with the Coyotes paying small amounts of these deals.

The Rangers have been outscored 18-3 in their last three games. If they can’t figure out the basics of competing and defending as a unit Tuesday in Vegas, they’re likely in for a tough pair of games against the rival Isles.

Although many Blueshirts diehards wish to see the Rangers fall into the abyss to increase the team’s chances of landing an uber-prospect in Kaapo Kakko or Jack Hughes in the 2019 draft, no Rangers fan wants to experience the pain of drubbings at the hands of the Islanders.

Sunday in Arizona felt like rock bottom, but the chasm will grow deeper and deeper unless someone besides Lundqvist rediscovers their A-game. Relying on magnificent goaltending from Lundqvist and backup Alexandar Georgiev to bail this team out every night is neither fair nor realistic.

Following the loss to the Coyotes, head coach David Quinn described his team as being fragile mentally and physically. It’s overdue for these Rangers to pull their socks up, lace their skates tight and go to work.

Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey.