The New York Rangers are certainly not a one-man team. But they have a top-heavy roster.
And in the wake of losing multiple key players, the Blueshirts have stumbled, going 0-3-1 in their last four contests.
The good news for John Tortorella’s troops is that a few of those important pieces to the puzzle are on the verge of returning to the lineup. Every Ranger — with the exception of Arron Asham — was on the ice for Wednesday’s optional skate at the MSG Training Center in Greenburgh, New York.
Asham has missed the last three contests with back spasms, and will likely miss his fourth consecutive game when the Rangers host the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night. One Blueshirt who did return to the lineup was Darroll Powe.
Powe, who was acquired from the Minnesota Wild on February 4th in exchange for Mike Rupp, missed three games after suffering a concussion on February 17th. Tortorella was excited to see the 27-year-old back on the ice for the Rangers-Jets contest on Tuesday.
“Powe gives me flexibility in the lineup,” Tortorella said. “He takes faceoffs, and he can play all three forward positions. He’s allowed me to move other guys around.
Nash, who missed the last four games with an undisclosed injury, skated for the second consecutive day on Wednesday. In light of Brandon Mashinter being sent down to Connecticut, and Asham’s injury, the belief is that Nash will be ready to play on Thursday.
On Tuesday, Nash wouldn’t specify what has been ailing him, although he did reveal that it was “a lot of different things.”
“I don’t really want to go into specifics, specific things that it exactly was, but there was a bunch of things going on where I wasn’t good enough to play,” Nash said. “I’ve been banged up quite a bit and obviously just didn’t feel I could compete out there, but after last week and today it’s definitely (headed) in the right direction and it’s a big positive.”
In addition to Nash, the Rangers played Tuesday’s game without two of their top four defensemen, Ryan McDonagh and Michael Del Zotto.
McDonagh left the Rangers contest against the Canadiens on Saturday night after being boarded by Montreal’s Max Pacioretty. Although the fear was that the 23-year-old suffered a concussion on the hit, McDonagh flew back to New York with the team, and was able to get back on the ice during the off-day.
Del Zotto missed the last two games with a lower-body injury. He is skating in practice, but his return date is uncertain. Both McDonagh and Del Zotto said they will wait until Thursday to determine if they will play in the game against the Lightning.
However, the consensus is that McDonagh will be ready to play.
The Rangers’ start to the year hasn’t been what they hoped for, but it is not season-threatening. Despite being 8-8-2, New York sits one point of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference.
The absence of Nash and McDonagh are magnified because of how much they play when they’re in the lineup. Tortorella relies heavily on his best players on a nightly basis.
Seven Rangers (McDonagh, Nash, Del Zotto, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Ryan Callahan, and Derek Stepan) all average over 20 minutes of ice time per game. Two other Rangers (Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik) average over 19 minutes.
Tortorella has been forced to put players he hasn’t relied on into key situations and increase their ice time. Offensively, the Blueshirts have only tallied six goals in the four games without Nash. On the blueline, Staal and Girardi have had to shoulder an even heavier load.
The return of Nash and McDonagh to the ice would be a welcomed return for everybody associated with the Rangers.
The only question that remains is whether the results after they come back will reflect the top-end talent level the Blueshirts posses.