It has been a rough week for the New York Rangers so far. Two tough losses to the Carolina Hurricanes and the Minnesota Wild has set fans in a panic. Yet the Rangers still have a good opportunity to make the playoffs. The team has only missed the postseason once since the 2005-06 season and despite a two-game cold streak has had very successful parts to the season. No team in the NHL goes without it’s struggles in each season, even Stanley Cup champions. There are plenty of reasons to still believe in this Rangers team.
First is that Derek Stepan is producing well. The team’s first line center has been in a good groove as he has two goals and three assists in his last four games and has been a consistent offensive contributor. While Rick Nash has been less noticeable and the left wing spot has been on rotation the last two games, Stepan needs to start lifting the production of his linemates.
The next reason is that Martin St. Louis needs time to adjust to his new team. He has played for the Tampa Bay Lightning for the better part of the last 12.5 seasons and though he has gone through many coaches, the entire Rangers’ roster has taken time to adjust to Alain Vigneault‘s team and he should not be an exception. St. Louis is a talented player and produced almost one point per game without Steven Stamkos this season, so it is just a matter of time until the trade starts paying dividends for the Rangers.
One thing the Rangers need to do is to figure out the power play lines. St. Louis is one of the most skilled players the Rangers have had in recent history and the team needs to take advantage of that. Instead of putting him on the point on the second power play unit, Vigneault should move St. Louis up to play with Stepan and Rick Nash, as well as having Brad Richards and Ryan McDonagh on the point. That unit is incredibly skilled and has two pairs of players with chemistry. While this is no knock on Chris Kreider who is currently in that spot on the first unit, he would provide a boost to the second unit that consists of Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard, Benoit Pouliot and Dan Girardi. Moving the creative Zuccarello back to the point alongside Girardi allows Kreider and Pouliot to take advantage of their puck skills and their strength down low in the zone to create more opportunities. This balances the attack of both lines and raises the overall skill level of the power play.
Henrik Lundqvist needs to be his pre-Olympic self. He simply has not played well since coming back from Sochi. This is similar to what happened four years ago in Vancouver when Lundqvist struggled to regain his elite form after backstopping the Swedes in the competition. Lundqvist was on an incredible streak for twenty or so games going into the Olympic break and if the team wants to go deep into the playoffs, they must ride his play in order to do so. While the supporting cast has vastly improved, Lundqvist remains the one constant that has brought the Rangers success.
The Rangers only play two teams that are in a playoff position in their next five games. New York has stepped up and played well against teams like the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings of late, yet can’t seem to shut down lower-seeded teams. Tonight the team faces off against the Winnipeg Jets who have lost two consecutive overtime games. The Rangers must score early to set the tone of the game. The Rangers must win at least three and take points in four of these games to get themselves rolling. Many things have to fall into place, but as it stands now the Rangers are in good position to fight towards the postseason. The effort level has to be there and this team has all of the right pieces to be successful. New York’s playoff hopes are very much alive.