Rangers have been mostly awful, judging by Neilson's beratings

January 03, 1993|By New York Daily News

NEW YORK -- Neil Smith remained in Sweden on Friday, watching junior players and keeping his eye on a future that isn't half as important as the New York Rangers' awful present. Corey Hirsch remained with Binghamton yesterday, traveling to Hershey for last night's game; if the goalie gets called up to make his NHL debut, it will not be before tomorrow night against the New Jersey Devils.

The Rangers, meanwhile, got a pre-practice tongue-lashing that threatened all gauges on the Roger Neilson scale -- which is what one deserved after Thursday night's 11-6 loss to the Sabres in Buffalo.

"Roger doesn't exactly yell, and I've never heard him swear," one veteran said, "but he said 'crap' a lot."

The game was much like the 8-4 loss in Washington that elicited Neilson's last real tirade; in that Dec. 4 game, as in Thursday night's, the opposition barely had to work to fill the Rangers' net.

Neilson yells more by his actions than his words, so yesterday, in addition to the lecture, the soft-spoken coach fairly screamed:

* At the end of Friday's hourlong workout, Neilson performed a whistle concert. The players skated for 15 seconds, rested for 15 seconds. On and on it went, Neilson's whistle chirping the stops and starts, until the Memorial Auditorium ice in Buffalo looked like a snowy beach. After the final sprint, Neilson charged off the ice and stormed through the narrow doorway at the end boards.

* When the bus arrived at the Buffalo airport for the flight to Pittsburgh for last night's game with the Penguins, Neilson as usual, sat at the front. He always is last off the bus or the plane, and after good performances, Neilson makes eye contact with those in the traveling party. Yesterday, as the bus emptied, Neilson stared straight ahead.

"Our back-checking was atrocious, our defense and goaltending not much better," Neilson said after the Rangers' fourth loss in five games. "It was a bad game for us."

And it was one of the worst by Mark Messier, who finished with one shot and a minus-five on his record.

"Some players played hard the whole game, hit the whole game and worked to the end," Neilson said. "Others didn't seem to be into it."

The Rangers' captain certainly qualified for that latter group.

"I've played the last month and a half trying to get healthy," Messier said. "I'm certainly not happy with the way I've played the last month and a half. I don't think I've played to my potential.

"By the same token, I've started to feel better the last little while. Hopefully, I'll start getting back to form."

If not, Messier should rest until his back problem is healed. Messier has played a major role in more victories than losses, but for teams to succeed, scorers have to score, bangers have to bang, checkers have to check, leaders need to lead.

One shot and minus-five in an 11-6 loss is not leadership for a floundering team.

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