As we sit here at All-Star Weekend, the New York Rangers find themselves in a favorable spot considering how they have played through the first 49 games. The Rangers have been a confusing team during the first half of the season. Remember the nine-game win streak? It wasn’t like they were dominating those teams, but they found ways to win. Since then, New York is 13-15-3.
While the Rangers haven’t looked terrible, they are a team that started this year with a Stanley Cup as their goal, so I believe it’s about time they put together a two to three week stretch in which they play good hockey and string together a few wins. With the talent this team has, you have to believe that not only is it possible, but that it’s coming. If you’re a fan, you’re hoping it’s coming sooner rather than later.
With the inconsistent play, the Rangers have an interesting month ahead of them. 7 of the 14 games the Rangers play this month are against divisional opponents, including four of the first five to start the month as well as three against the Devils.
This is a crucial point in the schedule for Alain Vigneault and his group. With the seven divisional games, a 28-point swing is up for grabs in this month alone. This month could very well dictate the three or four teams who make the playoffs from the Metropolitan division (already giving Washington a playoff spot). With that in mind, here are three X factors for the Rangers as they enter February.
In a contract year, I, like most fans, had high hopes for the speed demon. Night in and night out Chris Kreider should be able to create offensive scoring chances because of his speed. He did it when he first came up in the playoffs back in 2012, and in his first two full seasons in the NHL, Kreider has shown only glimpses of great play. The first half of this year has been average at best for Kreider. He’s skating a +2 while he finished last season with a +24 rating. Both his goals and assists are down and he’s a player (along with JT Miller and Kevin Hayes) that allowed former GM Glen Sather to feel comfortable trading Anthony Duclair to the Coyotes for Yandle. Kreider needs to begin to put the scoring chances he’s creating into the back of the net for his sake and the good of the team.
Nash is here to score goals, that is his role on this team. He is a proven goal scorer in this league and for Rick to have 12 goals total at the All-Star break is a little puzzling. Before we talk more about the goals, I also want to give him credit because I think he is seeing the ice and his teammates better than ever. That’s good and you can’t not like a guy for looking to expand his game but if it takes away too much from the best part of your game (and the part of the game his team needs the most right now), it may be time for Rick Nash to get selfish. Nash leads the Rangers in shots, as he should, and I’m of the opinion that he needs to shoot more to help this team.
The King has probably been the most consistent player on this hockey team, but what else is new? Lundqvist though, has had his troubles; he has been pulled from multiple games and has struggled in a few games against other top teams. He has 23 wins, a .921 save percentage, a 2.41 GAA and truly is the rock of this team. With all that being said, Henrik Lundqvist is a guy who can mask a lot of problems for a long time. While the numbers I just mentioned are good, they are near his career worsts in GAA and save percentage. If Lundqvist’s numbers begin to improve, it may be because the team is playing better in front of him and not necessarily because Henrik is raising his game, although that is possible. If the Rangers don’t improve in front of their net minder, there is a part of me that believes Henrik will be able to steal some games in this crucial stretch that is the month of February and keep his team in a good spot for the playoff push.