The New York Rangers earned a point and a playoff spot with a 5-4 overtime loss to the Sharks last night in San Jose. Now, the real test begins as they prepare for the grind of the second season.
The loss was their 10th in the last 16 games and marked the second consecutive game that the New York Rangers have surrendered at least five goals.
This one loss, by itself, does not mean a whole lot. However, the manner in which they lost and the weaknesses it exposed are definite reasons for concern.
The loss to the Sharks was essentially a microcosm of the Rangers current run of futility. Their offense was awesome, their goaltending was adequate, their special teams were about even and their defense was terrible.
With five games remaining in the regular season, the Rangers still have an opportunity to find their game before the playoffs. If they are to have any chance in the playoffs, though, they better do it quickly.
Here’s a look ahead at the Rangers remaining games:
Friday, March 31 — Home vs Pittsburgh
The Rangers are 1-2 against the Pens this season. They’ve been outscored 15-7 in those three contests including an inexcusable 6-1 defeat at home back in November.
The Penguins are an especially tough matchup for the Rangers as evidenced by their four games to one trouncing of the Blueshirts in the first round of last season’s playoffs. Despite Coach Alain Vigneault‘s best attempts to create favorable matchups, the Rangers simply have no answer on defense for the Penguins speedy and talented forwards.
Luckily, the Penguins are also reeling a little bit right now having lost their last three and five of the last eight. If the Rangers are going to have any momentum at all heading into the playoffs, they really need to start with a strong performance in this game.
Sunday, April 2 — Home vs Philadelphia
The Rangers are 2-1 against the Flyers this season. Not surprisingly, their two wins have come on the road. In the one loss, the Rangers were shutout in front a sold-out Madison Square Garden crowd. Including that stinker vs. the Flyers back on Jan. 25, the Rangers have lost nine of their last 14 at home.
The Flyers have not had a good season. They currently reside in seventh place in the Metro with a 36-32-8 record and 80 points. They will not make the playoffs in 2017 and so their playoff series win drought will reach five years.
Assuming the Rangers are not able to reverse their fortunes on Friday vs. the Pens, this game may be the Blueshirts best opportunity to reward their fans with a home victory. The Flyers are a putrid 14-21-4 on the road this season.
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Wednesday, April 5 — Away @ Washington
The Rangers have played pretty well against the NHL’s best team this season going 2-1 so far against the 50 win Caps. New York won their one road game back in Washington in October and have split with the Caps at home.
While the Capitals have already clinched the playoffs, they still have work to do. With seven games remaining on their schedule Washington has only a slim three-point lead over Columbus for the Metro division and Eastern Conference titles. The Capitals are also looking to earn their third, and second consecutive, Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s best regular season team.
Washington is riding a seven-game point-streak and five-game winning streak. They are talented, deep and hungry. They also have the NHL’s best home record, having already won 31 games at the Verizon center with two left to play. The Rangers have 27 road wins this year, the most of any team in the NHL. They are truly the league’s ultimate road warriors. So what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? Tune into NBCSN for Rivalry Wednesday to find out.
Saturday, April 8 — Away @ Ottawa
The Rangers have the least home wins (19) of any team currently in a playoff position in either conference. Luckily for the Rangers, this game is on the road. The Senators are almost as bad as the Rangers at home. They have the second fewest home victories of any playoff team in either conference (20).
In their only two prior matchups this year, New York is 1-1 at home against the Sens. The Saturday afternoon skate in Ottawa will be the Rangers last road game of the season. It will also be the first game in the Rangers last back to back series of the season.
The Senators are currently in second place in the Atlantic Division. They are four points out of first place behind Montreal but have a game in hand. If the Sens can somehow manage to win their division, this game will be a preview of the Rangers first round playoff matchup as the first wild card will play the Atlantic division winners in this year’s tournament.
Sunday, April 9 — Home vs Pittsburgh
The Rangers wrap up the regular season at home vs. Pittsburgh on Steven McDonald Night.
The game will probably not have any impact on the Rangers in the standings. However, it may prove to be vital for the Penguins.
Pittsburgh is currently in third place in the Metro. Despite having the third best record in their division and in the NHL, the Pens are in a position to face the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of the playoffs. The Blue Jackets have the second best record in hockey and would have home-ice advantage. The NHL, in its infinite wisdom, forces first round divisional matchups. As a result two of the three best teams in the entire league will face off in the first round.
The most interesting thing about this game for the Rangers, besides it being their home finale, will be watching to see who AV starts in nets. If the King finds his game ahead of this matchup, would the coach risk making him target practice against the league’s most potent offense? If he hasn’t yet found his game, would AV send his starting goaltender going into the playoffs with shattered confidence or instead risk an honest to goodness goalie controversy by exposing him to the Pens? We’ll find out soon enough.