The magic number is 96.
After his team’s first practice following the All-Star break, Head Coach Alain Vigneault was asked about the Rangers’ chances of making the playoffs.
And he answered thusly: “You hear different numbers, generally they say 96 is what’ll get you in. Right now, it looks like it might be a little less than that. A lot of times, after the trade deadline, some teams fade a little bit, but it’ll be close to 96.”
With all the rumors swirling regarding a potential Rangers fire-sale, 96 points may be a tall order for a club that just went 9-9-3 in its’ last 21 games.
Assuming Vigneault’s estimation is correct, the Blueshirts would need to secure 41 points in their last 32 games in order to reach the magic 96.
That’s a record of 20-11-1. And based upon the inconsistent play of the Rangers this season, that may not be doable.
However, this is still a team that is top-five in playoff games and playoff wins since 2012, so anything’s possible.
DEEP ROOTED CONNECTIONS
Michael Grabner was a Maple Leaf during the 2015-16 season.
Dominic Moore had two tours of duty for the Rangers; encompassing five seasons (2003-04 – 2005-06 & 2013-14 – 2015-16).
Maple Leafs’ Team President Brendan Shanahan spent two seasons playing in New York (2006-07 & 2007-08).
Peter Holland spent parts of four seasons in Toronto (2013-2017). And Holland is a native of Toronto.
Mats Zuccarello: The scrappy winger is closing in on more career milestones. He is six goals and one point away from 100 and 300 respectively in his NHL career.
Rick Nash: The veteran winger is four points away from 800 in his illustrious NHL career.
J.T. Miller: The skilled former first-round draft pick has always shown tremendous poise with the puck. And his playmaking abilities have him closing in on 100 career assists; he’s six away.
PLAYER TO WATCH
MAPLE LEAFS: PATRICK MARLEAU. The ageless wonder suddenly doesn’t seem so ageless. With just one goal/point in his last 11 games, Marleau is in the throws of a season-high scoring skid. Nevertheless, he still ranks fourth on the team with 16 goals for the season. And if this is “rock-bottom” then there’s nowhere to go but up for the 38-year-old center.
RANGERS: CODY MCLEOD. It’s been a few years since the Blueshirts played the style of hockey that fits McLeod’s skill set. The last time the Rangers were a heavily penalized, brash hard-hitting team was the 2011-12 season under ex-Head Coach John Tortorella. Since Alain Vigneault took over the reigns (2013-14) the Blueshirts have been a speed and skill type team. But with their speed eroded the Rangers have begun to focus more on their forechecking and that’s where the career enforcer McLeod comes in. Since making his NHL debut during the 2007-08 season, Cody is second in penalty minutes (1,524) and has developed a reputation as a hitting machine. Time will tell if his smashmouth brand of hockey can revitalize the Blueshirts.
The addition of Cody McLeod is a clear signal the team is consciously trying to get tougher and grittier. Therefore, expect the newly claimed winger to make his Blueshirts debut on the fourth-line and play between eight to 12 minutes against Toronto.
The rest of the lineup should remain the same from its’ victory over San Jose before the All-Star break.
And although Henrik Lundqvist didn’t practice on Wednesday — the team gave him an extra day of rest after playing in the All-Star Game — expect him to draw the start.
On the injury front, Chris Kreider has begun to lightly skate on his own. And Kevin Shattenkirk remains on crutches post-opt but is working out his upper-body as he attempts to stay in shape while sidelined.
Neither has a timetable to return.
WHERE TO WATCH
The game will be broadcast on MSG Networks at 7 pm ET. For in-game coverage check out our Twitter account @NYRBlueBulletin.
Thankfully, the Blueshirts have 13 games between now and the trade deadline. So should they continue to underperform, it will make management’s decision easier in regards to what moves to make.
Essentially anything short of a 10-3-0 mark between now and February 26th won’t be enough to convince the Rangers’ high-command to keep this team together.
First up is Toronto. Let’s see what the Blueshirts do.