IT IS TIME!
It’s time to find out whether these Rangers are contenders or pretenders.
With the season’s halfway point just around the corner, the Blueshirts remain an enigma.
At times they look capable of dominating any opponent; enroute to their first Stanley Cup championship since 1994.
At other times they look like a team on its’ last legs; begging to be put out of its’ misery.
A startlingly bad October gave birth to rumors that Head Coach Alain Vigneault had lost the locker room and his firing was imminent.
Then, on the edge of no return came nine wins in 12 November contests; giving off the impression that the 7th Avenue Skaters had turned a corner in their season.
Unfortunately a 6-3-2 record through 11 December games has created an uneasiness around the team.
On the surface, a 6-3-2 record isn’t bad, but the Blueshirts have been steadily outplayed during almost every game and have surrendered a whopping 40 plus shots five times. And 35 plus shots eight times during that span.
If not for Henrik Lundqvist posting a save percentage around .930 during those games, the Blueshirts would not currently be in possession of a playoff spot.
Since 2005 the Rangers have gone as far as Lundqvist can take them.
For the Blueshirts to take that next step and prove themselves contenders, they need to ease the burden on Lundqvist and pick up the slack.
DEEP ROOTED CONNECTIONS
Kevin Shattenkirk started his career with the Blues and was traded midway through last season to the Capitals, who were loading up for another deep playoff run.
Paul Carey spent part of the last two seasons (2015-16 and 2016-17) with the Capitals.
Blueshirts’ Senior Vice-President/Assistant General Manager Jim Schoenfeld served as Washington’s Head Coach from 1993-1997.
Brian MacLellan — the Capitals’ General Manager — played for the Rangers during the 1985-86 season.
Ryan McDonagh: The Rangers’ captain’s next game is his 500th career NHL contest.
Mats Zuccarello: Arguably the best playmaker on the Blueshirts, Zuccarello is three assists away from 200 in his career.
PLAYER TO WATCH
CAPITALS: JOHN CARLSON. The soon-to-be 28-year-old defenseman is having a career-year. With 27 points in 37 games — and five in his last six — Carlson is on pace to shatter his current career-high of 55 points; set during the 2014-15 season. The only drawback to his added scoring is his minus-4 rating — which isn’t terrible. But he has been a positive plus/minus player for most of his career.
RANGERS: KEVIN HAYES. Many people are saying that this is Hayes’ breakout campaign. He is adjusting to his role as a top-six center and has played a defensively sound game; on top of his scoring duties. In his career against Washington, Hayes has nine points (4G, 5A) in 19 games — four of which have been multipoint efforts.
Jesper Fast remains out with a quad strain; his absence is felt throughout the lineup. His versatility and two-way prowess had a stabilizing effect on the team when he returned from hip surgery. This new injury will test the Rangers’ depth and adaptability.
The rest of the lineup is expected to remain the same; with Henrik Lundqvist getting the start in net.
WHERE TO WATCH
The game will be broadcast on NBCSN at 8pm ET. For in-game coverage check out our Twitter account @NYRBlueBulletin.
The key for the Blueshirts is to limit the amount of shots their opponents fire towards Lundqvist. You cannot expect any netminder, let alone one in his mid-30s, to make upwards of 40 saves per night for weeks on end.
That’s a recipe for disaster.
There’s been a lot of talk recently about what G.M. Jeff Gorton will do at the trade deadline in February.
And the Rangers can either make his job very hard or very easy; it all begins against Washington.