Shirts lose Callahan, 3rd in a row vs. Preds

NEW YORK -- The Rangers lost captain Ryan Callahan during the first period of Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to the Nashville Predators, and the way things are going right now, that seems oddly fitting.

They lost their heart-and-soul leader, the very embodiment of the black-and-blue work ethos that defined the team in seasons past. And that seems to be the story of this season, because this really is not looking like one of those teams.

This team, now 15-16-1 after their third straight loss, lacks grit -- both in the requisite physical toughness shown on the ice and the mental fortitude that has previously guided the club in times of adversity.

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault wants his team to be offensive-minded, but they’re not that, either. He was frank after the latest loss in admitting that the club simply does not have the horses necessary to execute his desired style of play.

“I have an idea of how I’d like us to play. I’m not quite sure we have the personnel to play the type of game I’d like to play, which is more offensive-oriented,” Vigneault said. “I think it should be obvious to everybody that we have a challenge right now to score goals ... we’ve got to be more defensive-oriented for the time being.”

The Blueshirts have managed only two goals in as many games, making backup netminders like Carter Hutton and Philipp Grubauer look like All-Stars in the process.

Currently, they are 28th in the league in goals per game with a paltry 2.19 average, better than only bottom-dwellers Florida and Buffalo.

“This is the toughest stretch we've had, both as a group and for me personally,” goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said of the team’s travails.

Lundqvist, who inked a seven-year, $59.5 million extension last week, surrendered two goals to the Predators in the first period -- a hole from which the anemic Rangers could not recover.

Rick Nash cut the lead in half with a fantastic move and precision finish in the second period, but the Rangers gave up another goal to a productive Predators’ fourth line when Matt Hendricks tallied in the third period.

Though the Rangers lacked the type of desperation Vigneault has been clamoring for all week, the Predators had it in abundance as they snapped a five-game losing streak.

“No one is going to feel sorry for us,” alternate captain Brad Richards said. “There is no one coming in the building that will give us a win.”

What's perhaps most concerning to the Blueshirts at present is the number of points squandered during a nine-game homestand at Madison Square Garden. Of six possible points, the Rangers have nabbed only two, allowing Carolina to wrest the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference standings from them.

Should the Rangers continue like this, ambling through the rest of the season with no discernible identity or spark, the playoffs will be irrelevant anyway.

Right now, it doesn’t seem like they would give any opposing team trouble in a seven-game series. And that has nothing to do with personnel, just pride and commitment.

“It doesn’t matter who we have out there,” defenseman Dan Girardi said. “With the guys we have we’ve just got to be tenacious on the forecheck. It’s not a matter of fighting everyone in the game, it’s just being committed to finishing your check, playing hard.”

“Right now, It’s not too hard for teams to come in our building,” Girardi continued, “and that can’t be the case.”