On Friday night, the New York Rangers will begin the second half of their season. They will face the Metropolitan Division-leading Pittsburgh Penguins and will travel to Canada to face the Toronto Maple Leafs the following night. The Rangers have played much better as of late, winning four of their last five games. But if they truly have turned the corner, their performance in these next two road games will confirm or deny it.
The Rangers have played well against the Penguins so far this season, earning three points in two games. This is their first visit to Pittsburgh this season, and they face the Penguins at a time in which they remain decimated by injuries. Still, the Penguins are capable of a win on any given night despite the absence of a handful of star players.
The Rangers, on the other hand, are getting healthier. Marc Staal returned on New Year’s Eve, and captain Ryan Callahan will return from an MCL sprain.
If the Rangers are intimidated the same way they were in their previous meeting against an injury-decimated Penguins team, it won’t matter. After all, Sidney Crosby is healthy and is capable of single-handedly taking over the game for Pittsburgh. Oh, and let’s not forget former Rangers forward Taylor Pyatt was claimed off waivers by the Penguins Thursday. How motivated will he be?
The next night, they face the Maple Leafs, who are coming off an emotional victory in the NHL Winter Classic. The Rangers beat them at home in a shootout in their previous meeting, but it was a complete struggle. Their best hope is that the Leafs will be emotionally spent from the Classic and come out flat. If so, the Rangers will need to take advantage and take advantage quickly.
If the Rangers struggle and can’t earn at least one win in these two games, then all the good feelings built up by their recent play will evaporate. If they truly have turned the corner, they will bring their A-game against two top Eastern Conference teams.
They are already struggling to stay in the playoff race. Losses in these games could be devastating.