There's nothing quite like waking up the morning after a cringingly-miserable Rangers game to discover that The Almighty Internet has diagnosed the problem:
They're not trying.
They just don't want to win.
To quote Gob Bluth, oh, COME ON.
Yes, the team is in a very dark place. In fact, it's fair to say that, as of last night, when Derek Stepan's return utterly failed to turn the team around, the proverbial Wheels are officially Off.
But let's think about what that means, and why it's the perfect metaphor for this situation. The wheels don't come off because the car isn't trying. It isn't a lack of effort. It's foundational, it's unexpected, and when it happens there's nothing you can do except rebuild the car.
They may look like they're not trying. I know. I'm watching the same games you are. But to say the Rangers aren't trying is to suggest that they sit in the locker room, tape their sticks, and think, "You know what? I'm just not feeling this whole 'hockey' thing today. Instead, I'm going to humiliate myself on television, lower my value, and risk getting garbage thrown at me in the street. Yeah, that. Yawn."
No. They've hit a wall, nothing is working (except J.T. Miller, who probably skates in his sleep) and even the most focused of them can't see a way through. Ryan McDonagh looks like he's supporting a whole family of ulcers. Keith Yandle is absolutely seething, and he shows it every time he brings the puck in by himself. Hell, Mats Zuccarello beat the crap out of an utterly innocent recycling bin.
And then there's the less clear-headed players, the ones who get thrown off their game at the drop of a hat. (I'm looking at you, Chris Kreider, and the "Taxi Driver" haircut really isn't helping.) Emerson Etem probably feels as if he's auditioning for the orchestra on the Titanic as it tips, and poor Brady Skjei invited everyone he knew to come watch his worst nightmare against the Wild.
So yes, the Rangers are trying. The problem is, I'm not sure they know what they're trying to do, other than win. And that is too vague a goal to get them back on track. Plus, one could argue - hell, we have - that even when we were winning, the wheels were on their way off (PDO, anyone?).
The Rangers do not have an effort problem. The Rangers have a leadership problem - a big one. Someone has to not only show them how to win, but make them believe they can do it - and in a sustainable way, not "lean on Hank and see what happens," especially since Henrik Lundqvist seems to have chosen an extremely inopportune time to come out as a human being. The real, scary problem here is that Alain Vigneault may not be the guy to do this. I may be projecting, but I think they've stopped trusting him. Which leaves us with no wheels, no driver, and a whole lot of races left to go.