This is the type of performance that places the entire operation under scrutiny.
This 7-2 humiliation the Rangers suffered at the hands (and legs) of the Islanders at the Garden on Saturday afternoon raises all sorts of questions about the program and this team that is trending in the wrong direction at the wrong time of year.
You question whether this is truly what the perennially defensively deficient Blueshirts are when they don’t receive superior goaltending. You question whether the coach is getting his message across. You question whether management and the coaching staff questions what they have here more than halfway through a season that seems to be on its way to nowhere.
“I think in the past, a lot of players have proven to be able to do it,” Alain Vigneault said when asked if he maintains confidence in the personnel. “But I’m more about what are you doing for me now.”
Not enough of the Rangers are doing what’s needed, that’s for sure. Ondrej Pavelec, who had allowed six goals on 153 shots in four starts covering 248:01 since the beginning of December, was an island unto himself in surrendering five goals on 20 shots in 26:51 before getting the hook in what was then a 5-1 game.
The goaltender has had finer moments, but the Islanders were permitted to do as they pleased throughout the match, racing past the befuddled and confused Blueshirts on end-to-end rushes that culminated with their snipers waltzing in alone on Pavelec.
One after another, the Rangers slipped on banana peels as if starring in a Keystone Kops film. If they took anyone at all, they tended to take the wrong men. Judicious decision making was absent. Just as the Jack Woltz character in “The Godfather,” the Blueshirts were made to look ridiculous.
And in particular, Mathew Barzal, who had two goals and three assists provide a Calder boost, made the Mika Zibanejad-J.T. Miller-Mats Zuccarello line look as foolish as the Bruins’ front office that passed on the elite 20-year-old rookie with the 13th, 14th and 15th selections in the 2015 entry draft before GM Garth Snow’s crew snapped him up at No. 16.
“It’s a dumb hockey game by us,” Zuccarello told The Post following a post-game meeting. “Dumb. We don’t think. We have two guys going to take one. It was a dumb hockey game.
“It’s not what we stand for. It might look like we don’t care or we don’t give 100 percent, but that’s what it looks like when you’re dumb.”
It is a mistake to overreact to any single game, even one as odious as this one against an opponent who had won only five of its previous 17 (5-10-2) and against whom the Blueshirts are now 3-10-2 over the past four years. But the Rangers’ D-zone coverage and rush-reads have been constant issues — the Kevin Shattenkirk-Brady Skjei pair was an earned minus-four — that have been camouflaged by the heaping doses of goaltending brilliance supplied by Henrik Lundqvist.
Let’s get this out of the way. Brendan Smith has had a disappointing year, there is no doubt about that. No one is suggesting his presence would have changed the dynamic. But scratching the defenseman for a second straight match — and the 10th time in 43 games — in order to get Steven Kampfer in the lineup makes no sense. Why in the world did they sign No. 42 to a four-year, $17.4 million extension and then use Smith — who, by the way, leads the team with a plus-seven at five-on-five despite his travails — this way?
Zuccarello said that, “We were 100-percent not on the same page,” in describing Saturday’s follies, but it sometimes seems as though that’s the case when it comes to the front office and the coach.
Again. Good teams have lousy games. But mediocre teams have more of them. The Rangers, who have won just three of their past nine games (3-4-2), seven of the last 16 (7-6-3) and 22 of 43 (22-16-5) altogether, seem to fit the description. There is nothing, other than goaltending, they do on a superior basis. They fancy themselves as fast, but they recently have looked like go-carts on the Indy 500 Speedway against legitimate speed teams like the Blackhawks, Devils, Maple Leafs and Red Wings and against quicksilver players such as Barzal.
“Everyone here should be pissed off,” Zuccarello said. “This was a stupid, stupid hockey game by us. But this does not represent what the Rangers are. I’m certain of that.”
That makes one of him.