With the NHL Trade Deadline looming, the New York Rangers enter a week of four intense games. They will play host to the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday night before a St. Patrick’s Day showdown at the Garden with the New York Islanders segues into a weekend back-to-back against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes.
It is a massive week for the Rangers, who sit two points back of the Pittsburgh Penguins for second in the Metropolitan Division with one game in hand. Each game is an opportunity for Chris Drury to evaluate his players and determine who gets dealt and who remains with the team this coming Monday. Not to mention the playoff implications that the weekend holds, with road games against two of the beasts in the Eastern Conference.
After a shakey four-game road trip, the Rangers will look to carry the momentum from a wild 7-4 win over the Dallas Stars on Saturday into this week. Improvements are a necessity for head coach Gerard Gallant’s group, but the looming deadline will add a layer of pressure that most of these players have yet to feel in their NHL careers.
There is uncertainty surrounding players like Filip Chytil, Alexandar Georgiev, Julien Gauthier, and Patrik Nemeth, who could play their final games as Rangers this week. With the playoffs on the horizon, the Rangers have a lot to prove over the next four games and provide a unique test for their up-and-coming team.
Ducks, Islanders Head to Madison Square Garden
The Ducks will be the Rangers’ first opponent of the week; the two clubs have been linked for some time now. Anaheim has two players of interest in Rickard Rakell and Hampus Lindholm. Both could be headed to New York on Monday and have a chance to show off their talents under the bright lights of Broadway.
The teams last faced off on Jan. 8, with the Rangers coming out victorious in Anaheim, 4-1. At the time, the Ducks were in the playoff mix. Now, they sit four points back and could be sellers; they have already started moving players, sending Josh Manson to the Colorado Avalanche. It will be a big two points for the Rangers, but also an excellent opportunity for the two teams to evaluate the other’s players and perhaps swing a trade.
The more significant matchup at Madison Square Garden will be on Thursday when the Rangers host their arch-rivals, the Islanders. A St. Patrick’s Day game means the crowd will be rowdy, with the two teams sure to match that intensity on the ice. The lone meeting between the teams this season was on Nov. 24, with the Rangers skating past the Isles 4-1.
That was back when the Islanders were in the midst of a COVID-19 outbreak and were shorthanded, so Thursday’s meeting will be the first full-strength matchup of the season. The Islanders may not be in the playoff picture at this point, but they have been hot of late and always play well against the Rangers.
As for the Rangers, they need to win against their rivals in a big way. Not only will it show that the early-season game wasn’t a fluke, but it will prove that the tides in New York hockey supremacy are turning back in favor of the Blueshirts. It should be a great game with a great atmosphere.
Back-to-Back Against Hurricanes and Lightning
After the brief reprieve at home, the Rangers will be heading back on the road for a weekend trip to Tampa Bay and Carolina. First, they face-off against the Lightning, who sit second in the Atlantic and fourth in the NHL with 82 points. The two teams have already played twice (a home-and-home), with the Rangers victorious both times.
The Rangers will look to sweep the season series, a task that will be hard to do, especially when your opponent is the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions. For the Rangers to pull off their third consecutive victory, goaltender Igor Shesterkin will have to replicate his last performance – a 38-save shutout in which he was spectacular.
What will likely be a battle between two of the East’s best will surely fatigue the Rangers, who have to hop on a plane to Raleigh, NC, to play the Hurricanes the next day. Carolina, who sits atop the Metropolitan Division and trails only Colorado in the league standings, is not the team you want to play on the tail-end of a back-to-back (From ‘Rangers’ grind-it-out approach leading to more consistency,’ New York Post, 03/14/2022).
The Rangers suffered a 6-3 defeat in their last game against the Canes, a score that is closer than the game was. Georgiev got the start in goal, and the Rangers failed to slow down the scorching Carolina offense. At the time, the Rangers were fighting for the number one spot in the Metro, but now the Hurricanes have firmly grasped that position.
That will be the last game before the March 21 trade deadline, so it will be the perfect time for the Rangers to have a statement win. The Blueshirts have sputtered on the road of late, going 2-3-0 in their last five games, but if there was ever a time to reclaim their road prowess from early in the season, a weekend filled with two challenging games would be it.
These four games will show a lot about the Rangers’ true postseason potential, but more importantly, they will show Drury precisely what needs to be done to improve this club before the trade deadline passes him by.
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!