After winning four out of five and putting the idea of playoff hockey into their fans’ heads, the Rangers lost back-to-back games at home to limp into their 10-day layoff. The losses have put their playoff aspirations in peril and with a little more than two months of hockey left, the Rangers are close to playing for next season.
Here are 10 thoughts on the Rangers as usual.
1. The moment Artemi Panarin was scratched from Tuesday night’s game with an upper-body injury was the moment the Rangers lost the game. The Panarin-less Rangers did their best to win a third straight Battle of New York, but without the team’s leading scorer and best player, it was too little too late for the Rangers in their failed comeback attempt late in the game.
As the Rangers were failing to pick up a single point out of the four on the line in their back-to-back home games to close out the pre-All-Star portion of their schedule, the Hurricanes put together two straight wins and the Blue Jackets six straight to push the Rangers down even more in the standings. The Rangers enter their layoff 13 points back for a division spot, 12 points back of the first wild card and 11 points back of the second wild card. Carolina has the second wild card pacing for 100 points and for the Rangers to get to 100 points, they will need 50 points in 34 games, or a 23-7-4 record and will somehow have to find a way to jump Montreal, Buffalo, Toronto, Philadelphia and Columbus.
2. The Rangers-Islanders three games in eight days did provide some midseason, pre-layoff excitement, but in the future I would prefer a late-October game, a right-before-Christmas game and then two games in March in the final month of the season.
The NHL created its current playoff format to manufacture rivalries and postseason drama, but so far in the Eastern Conference, the only two teams to meet consistently are the Bruins and Maple Leafs (and they might meet again this season). It’s too bad we have yet to get even one Rangers-Islanders playoff series from this format and we won’t get it again this season. Maybe 2020-21 will finally be the year we get the Battle of New York in the postseason.
3. I’m still not over the loss to Columbus because of how crucial getting that one point was and how season-changing getting two could have been. But maybe it was for the better. The last thing this Rangers team needs in the middle of what looks to be a successful and expedited rebuild is to be fooled into thinking they are better than they are like they were when they held on to the core for the 2016-17 season. The best thing to happen to the Yankees since their dynasty was losing four straight games heading into the 2016 trade deadline to take themselves out of the wild-card race, and losing to the Blue Jackets and Islanders might have been the best thing for this Rangers team to prove to the front office “going for it” this season isn’t worth it. This team needs one more pre-deadline selloff.
4. Chris Kreider is the key to this last pre-deadline selloff. To me, it doesn’t matter if Kreider lowers his number or the Rangers find a way to fit his demands into their cap, he should be traded. Kreider is going to turn 29 shortly after this season ends and given the current state and age of the young core of the Rangers and when they will be ready to seriously contend for a championship, the timeline doesn’t match up with Kreider’s future. I understand the Rangers would be parting ways with yet another fan favorite who provides veteran leadership, but it’s not worth the contract it will cost to sign or the possibility of getting nothing in return to hold on to him for the rest of the season.
5. Kreider is a good player, but him being named to the All-Star team in place of the injured Panarin isn’t a great look for a game which is supposed to feature the best players in the league. Kreider is on pace for a 29-goal, 55-point season and is currently tied for 102nd in league scoring. Mika Zibanejad would have been a much better option, and I get that he missed 13 games earlier this season, but at least he’s on a 42-goal pace for an 82-game season and is a more-than-a-point-per-game player.
6. Aside from trading Kreider, the Rangers still need to figure out what to do with their goalie situation. Alexandar Georgiev is still going to be the odd man out, but when? Right now, I feel like the Rangers are going to keep Georgiev through the end of the season and trade him this summer. It’s going to take desperation from a team like Toronto or Colorado and the the realization their season will likely end in the spring because of their goaltending. It doesn’t seem like the Rangers are going to budge on their demand of an NHL-ready forward in return for Georgiev, and they shouldn’t. They’re really in no need to rush to move Georgiev even if the three-goalie rotation is ridiculous.
7. Igor Shesterkin was sent down to the AHL for the layoff, taking a substantial paycut during this time in what is the latest repercussion of this three-goalie situation. In the last eight games, Georgiev has received four starts, Shesterkin three and Henrik Lundqvist one.
Lundqvist had five days off before playing on Jan. 2. Then he had nine days off before playing on Jan. 11. He hasn’t played since. The earliest Lundqvist will play is the first game back after the layoff and that would mean he’s had 20 days off between starts. The situation hasn’t been ideal for any of the three goalies, but especially for Lundqvist who is used to playing the majority of the games in a season and has historically played better when he goes extended periods without backing up. Lundqvist might end up with two starts in the entire month of January.
8. This isn’t necessarily related to the Rangers since they have only been in two shootouts this season and haven’t been in one in a while, but it’s time to get rid of the shootout. It was fun and different and exciting when it was implemented nearly 15 years ago, but it’s time to move on. It’s absurd games and seasons are still be determined by a shootout. Either turn off the clock for overtime and play 3-on-3 until there’s a goal, or if you need a time of goal for record purposes, put 20 minutes on the clock and play 3-on-3 until a goal is scored. The league has changed the overtime format multiple times over the years, and they need to change it again.
9. I think the Rangers will compete for the playoffs next season. I don’t mean compete the way they are now where they are “still in it” but not really in it at all. I mean seriously compete. The only issue is they are part of the Met and the division isn’t going anywhere in terms of talent and depth. The Rangers will have to continue to grind out every single point in division play for the foreseeable future, but it will be the non-division games where they need to improve and take care of their own business next season and beyond. They have lost so many points to the inferior Western Conference this season, winning seven of 18 games, and have given away points to the worst teams in the league.
10. I realize the Rangers aren’t going to immediately change course and start giving NHL ice time and experience to those with an actual future with the team. They are going to try to put together the long-awaited extended win streak after the break with back-to-back games against Detroit to quickly get back on track and try one last time for a lengthy winning streak before the deadline. With five out of their first six games at home following the layoff, they could put a dent into their needed points total. The problem is the regulation loss total of eight they can afford to give up the rest of the way. I’m not sure how they navigate the remaining 34 games without exceeding that number with more than double that amount of games against playoff teams. It was a good run, but with a six percent chance of reaching the playoffs, it’s time to play for the future.T