Poor play costs Rangers points against Jets

NEW YORK -- For as hard as the Rangers fought to shed an awful 3-7-0 start to the season and climb back to .500, they haven't done much to move beyond that since.

A middling Blueshirts squad has a record (14-14-0) befitting its play as the Rangers dropped Monday's match against the Winnipeg Jets 5-2 at Madison Square Garden.

"Is this a .500 hockey club right now?" coach Alain Vigneault asked rhetorically after the game. "We're certainly playing like one right now."

Sloppy play, poor execution and an overall lack of urgency were the culprits as the Rangers let another two points slip past. The team remains in eighth place, perhaps only by virtue of the fact that the entire Eastern Conference is suffering from a widespread case of mediocrity. The Rangers have flip-flopped with wins and losses the past six games and have only one winning streak of more than two games this season.

With a jam-packed December ahead and nine games at home, the Rangers must do better if they want to hold some of the other challenging teams in the East at bay.

".500 hockey's not gonna cut it," goaltender Cam Talbot said of the message inside the team's dressing room after the game. "We've got to be better or we're going to be on the outside looking in."

Talbot surrendered four goals, two to ex-Ranger Olli Jokinen, though he could hardly be saddled with the loss. The Rangers, who have played so well in front of him lately, did not Monday night. It was the first time in his eight NHL starts that he gave up more than two goals.

This after Talbot was awarded his second straight start over Henrik Lundqvist, fanning the flames of a potential goalie controversy.

"We certainly made his life more challenging tonight with the way we played in front of him," Vigneault said.

The Rangers were just plain lucky to escape a horrid second period with the score tied 2-2. Derick Brassard made a boneheaded pass that led to the Jets' second goal of the night -- a play that earned him a demotion to the fourth line -- and the team played with little gumption the entire frame.

Instead of regrouping in the third and correcting the mistakes, the Rangers did little to improve the situation in the third.

"It's unacceptable," alternate captain Marc Staal said, "and it's something we have to correct in a hurry."

Vigneault would not reveal his goaltender for Thursday, though it seems inconceivable that he will not return to Lundqvist against Buffalo. To gain some ground in the standings, the Rangers desperately need to pick up two points against the last-place Sabres before they return for a nine-game homestand.

Stringing wins together is a must for the Rangers, especially considering the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers are within two points of them in the laughably weak Metropolitan Division.

Trading off wins and losses is not good enough.

"Good teams don't hover around .500 all season," said Rick Nash, who was held off the score sheet for the first time in four games. "They put winning streaks together and we can't find that streak right now. We need to do a better job. We'll figure it out."