OTTAWA, Ontario — The Rangers enter Wednesday’s matchup against the bottom-feeding Senators with two roads to take by the time the final horn sounds.
One route has the potential to lead back to the confidence level that helped propel the Rangers to the conference final last season. The other, however, could draw the Rangers further down a dark path of doubt that may be difficult to navigate out of.
Three losses in a row is the streak the Rangers stowed under their plane on the way here. The Senators, who are currently last in the Atlantic Division and just four points removed from the basement of the NHL, will want to greet them with a road block that will force the Rangers to continue to spiral as the calendar flips to December.
It is up to the Rangers to get back on track. It is up to the Rangers to figure out what will change their direction.
“I don’t know what’s missing,” Filip Chytil said in response to the opening question of his postgame media scrum after the Rangers lost, 5-3, to the Devils on Monday at the Garden. “We will see. We will see, we have to find out. We just have to keep playing hard like that, but we need to find out what’s missing.”
Solving that question is not something that’s going to happen overnight. That’s never the case in the NHL. A win over the 8-12-1 Senators isn’t going to change the whole trajectory of the Rangers’ season, but it certainly would help get some of the bad taste out of their mouths. A loss to Ottawa wouldn’t signify that the season is over, either, but it would sour the flavor even more.
The phrase “must-win game” gets thrown around a lot more than it should. But for the Rangers, whose team morale cannot afford another loss to an inferior club, this contest is just that. They need a confidence-boosting win that will ease the vibe in the locker room and act as a stepping stone toward rediscovering their identity.
“I think [we’re] not helping the goalies too much,” Chytil told The Post when asked what is missing. “Five goals [surrendered to the Devils], that’s a lot after [leading] 2-0. It’s just something we have to keep the [score] to nothing. They can’t score two goals in that short time. We just have to focus on defense, as well. That’s maybe what’s missing, but I don’t know. We will see.”
Whether it’s the first, second or third periods, the Rangers haven’t always effectively preserved leads this season. Whether they’re getting too comfortable or playing not to lose, there is just no will to protect the lead at times. Like a house of cards, one wrong move and the whole thing comes crashing down.
The Rangers’ confidence level has understandably taken a hit.
“We’re fighting for it,” captain Jacob Trouba said after Monday’s defeat, in which the Rangers blew a two-goal lead in the first period. “You’ve got to keep fighting for it. I don’t think it’s a secret that there’s frustration. I think that’s normal with where we’re at. Talk about it, kind of stay together as a group. That’s what we discussed as things aren’t easy right now. We’re going to keep fighting through them and battle until this thing turns for us.
“There’s definitely a sense of urgency, but there’s time left in this thing. We’re not looking at it saying, ‘there’s a bunch of time left,’ but we’re going to keep grinding and keep fighting through this and we’ll get through it.”
The Blueshirts have four games — two against the Senators, one against the Blackhawks and one against the Blues — to gear up for a pair of contests against the kinds of clubs they aspire to be in the same conversation with, the Avalanche and the Golden Knights. All three of those .500-or-below teams should present winnable games.
Sitting in fifth in the Metro and 10th in the NHL, the Rangers still have time to salvage this season and change course.
“It’s up to us,” Chytil said, “how we want to play.”