At the NHL’s All-Star break, the New York Rangers had played 47 games. That mark was the second-most in the league, only behind the Anaheim Ducks’ 48. Although teams have games in hand on the Rangers, their success over their first half of the season has all but fortified their position in the postseason picture.
For reference, the Rangers arch-rivals, the New York Islanders, will have to play 43 games in the second half of the season. That means 43 matches over 80 days, a grueling stretch for a team on the outside looking in. On the other hand, the Rangers get to enjoy an extended vacation and have the luxury of suiting up 35 times over that span.
Ultimately the quieter schedule means nothing if the Rangers do not take care of business. And out of those remaining 35 games, 17 are against Metropolitan Division foes. The games that the Rangers will play are all meaningful, but the silver lining is they will more often than not be the more rested team.
Unlike the other top teams in the league, the Rangers are a team that has yet to endure an entire 82-game campaign. With a roster comprised of youth and inexperience, a grueling stretch run might have been their undoing. Discounting the bubble experience, only eight Rangers currently on the roster have appeared in a playoff series.
Notable payers such as Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren, Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, and others have yet to play an entire NHL season. The Rangers will be in unchartered waters this second portion of 2021-22, and having more downtime than their opponents will be beneficial.
Keeping Igor Shesterkin Healthy
The Rangers play just four back-to-backs in their final 35 games. In contrast, they have eight occasions where they have two or more days off between games during that timeframe. Managing the workload for Igor Shesterkin will be crucial for head coach Gerard Gallant.
Shesterkin has been the backbone for the Rangers all season long. He has 22 wins in 28 starts, and you can point to him being the main reason the Blueshirts are where they are in the standings. Keeping him rested, and more importantly, healthy for the end of the season and postseason has to be a priority for the Rangers.
As Shesterkin goes, they go, and overusing him could lead to fatigue come the postseason. It begs to be repeated that the Russian goaltender has never played more than 43 combined games in a season, which came in 2017-18.
Although better of late, Alexandar Georgiev is not the backup goaltender the Rangers can rely on. Exemplified by his 7-7-2 record, the Rangers are a mere .500 team when he plays. Sure, some of that falls on the Rangers’ inability to defend and score at five-on-five. But the difference between games in which Shesterkin starts compared to when Georgiev does is drastic.
It is a story that seemingly cannot escape the Rangers; they will go as far as their number one goaltender will take them. And for Shesterkin to be able to carry them in the postseason, a less strenuous second half is just what the doctor ordered.
Fewer Games, Greater Importance
Although the Rangers have already completed most of their games, the remaining 35 tilts will carry more weight than the previous 47. As mentioned, 17 games will pin the Blueshirts against the Metropolitan Division. Twelve of the remaining 35 games will be against the eight teams currently in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
But the brutality of the schedule doesn’t end there. Sixteen games will be against playoff teams from the East and West. There will be tough opponents with significant implications throughout the final two-plus months of the season.
In the second half, the Rangers play fewer games than every team but the Washington Capitals in the Metropolitan Division. Even more important, they are the only team to have the luxury of an eight-day break after the All-Star weekend. When the Rangers take the ice for their matchup with the Boston Bruins on February 15, they will be the most rested team in the National Hockey League.
Now you can argue whether you think the layoff will help or hurt them out of the gate. But in a world of hectic schedules and COVID postponements, a little downtime can go a long way for the team’s morale. The strains and grinds of hard-fought games take tolls mentally and physically. A team rarely has this long of a break mid-season, and the Rangers can use it to get healthy and rejuvenated.
The Rangers went into the All-Star break on a little bit of a down stretch, with Fox, Kakko, and Filip Chytil all injured. This break not only sets them up for a robust second half but gives them the ability to come back rested and healthy, something that will benefit the Rangers in the long run.
Brendan Azoff is a THW contributor and podcast host dedicated to covering the New York Rangers. His passion for hockey started when he first laced up the skates at three, growing into his love for writing and talking about the greatest sport in the world. His podcast, The Backcheck, breaks down the Rangers, Islanders, and NHL news and can be found on The Hockey Writers Podcast Network and Belly Up Sports. Brendan has been writing about the Rangers and the NHL for over two years, with his content also found on Puck Prose, Blue Line Station, and E2G Sports. If you want to connect with Brendan and stay up-to-date on his posts, follow him on Twitter. He is always available for content ideas and interviews, don’t be afraid to ask!