The New York Rangers have found a second wind, and it comes at a particularly trying time of the season. The Rangers lost Kevin Hayes due to an injury during what became a five-game losing streak. It didn’t seem as though their fortunes would improve much following multiple blowout losses.
After a difficult victory versus the New York Islanders, the Rangers proceeded to allow seven goals against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Coach David Quinn was extremely critical of the team’s play, citing their effort as a primary contributor in the ugly loss. His words seemed to have an impact, because the Rangers won their next three games and are riding that streak into their bye week. But what makes this new winning streak so enigmatic is that the team is still without Hayes.
The Rangers’ center has been one of the team’s best players this season. It is clear that his stellar play is due in part to his desire to receive favorable contract offers this offseason. And yet, the Rangers have found a way to string together consecutive wins without him.
Hayes’ Strong Season Increases Likelihood of Trade
Hayes has scored 33 points in 39 games played. Had he not been injured, he would have been on-pace for a career-high 70 points this season, thus smashing his previous career high of 49 points posted in the 2016-17 season. He is widely regarded as a key trade piece that the Rangers have to offer, and will likely be moved by the deadline. What this winning streak proves is that the Rangers can win games without him.
A driving factor in this win streak has been the hot hands of Mika Zibanejad and Mats Zuccarello. Zuccarello, who admittedly has been distracted by rumors surrounding his potential departure via trade, has finally managed to tune out some of the background noise. In the last five games, Zuccarello has scored four goals and five assists for nine points. These numbers, paired with Zibanejad’s five goals and four assists during the same period, have helped lead the Rangers during this streak.
The two have seemingly accounted for Hayes’ absence. What this means is that if him being moved at the trade deadline wasn’t already a foregone conclusion, it is now. Despite his solid season and nifty play-making ability, it’s clear that he is not a necessity for the Rangers. Whether they are looking towards Jack Hughes or still setting their sights on a playoff spot, he is not required to achieve either.
The Rangers will have to find a new contributor to put up big numbers alongside Zibanejad, though, given that Zuccarello will likely be dealt as well. If another forward can step up and produce more, such as Chris Kreider or Vladislav Namestnikov, then the Rangers are not a team destined for last place.
Rangers Responding After Coach’s Criticisms
The current streak can also be attributed to increased effort. A combination of an injured Hayes and a disappointed head coach propelled the Rangers to put forth that extra ounce of speed and grit. While Hayes has played an important role over the years, it is evident that the team can still win games without him, simply by working harder.
This maximum-effort style of play seemed to be the formula in the early stages of the season when the Rangers played an impressive stretch that concluded immediately after Thanksgiving. That’s not to say the team hasn’t put forth effort the entire season, but it’s clear they’ve had stretches during which increased effort was visible.
Zuccarello has filled Hayes’ shoes during this stretch, but it is yet to be seen whether or not someone can fill the shoes of Zuccarello’s recent play once he also bids farewell to New York. If another player is to step into this role, the Rangers should still have enough to stay afloat.
The remainder of the season is going to be a bit of a roller coaster for the Rangers. While some players still hope to compete in the playoffs, others are looking towards the future. They’ve proven that with enough effort and production they can still win games even after major trade deadline deals.