Most teams missing three of their top six forwards for weeks at a time would crumble under the pressure and drop down in the standings. With Mika Zibanejad, Rick Nash, and Pavel Buchnevich all missing chunks of games, the New York Rangers have still found a way to keep up with the pace of the Metropolitan Division. Anyone who knows hockey understands that injuries are part of the game. That being said, the Rangers have had many under-the-radar players step up to the plate and produce for the team in the absence of stars.
Whether or not there has been a significant defensive change in the strategy department, the defense has been much, much better in not allowing high-quality opportunities. One of the biggest problems the Rangers have had so far this year is allowing top-notch opportunities within a few feet from the net. Recently, through Antti Raanta’s stretch of games, the Rangers haven’t given up many great chances. Raanta responded well to the scoring chances that were, for the most part, mediocre and the team won multiple games in a row.
Take the game against the Winnipeg Jets just last Thursday for example. There are no easy road games in the NHL and while many teams have struggled in Winnipeg, the Rangers were not one of them. The Rangers gave up just 18 shots over 60 minutes, most of which were not very high quality. Raanta was good in net but the defense in front of him really stepped up and performed very well to help him pick up the win without being heavily tested. If the defensemen can do that in front of Henrik Lundqvist on a nightly basis, it’s going to be very hard to pick up a win against the Blueshirts.
Upcoming Schedule Yet Another Test
The Rangers are on the road in Dallas on Thursday to take on a very up-and-down Stars team that’s struggled to find the offensive momentum they lived on last year. From Dallas, they travel to Nashville to play the Predators on Saturday and finish their week at Madison Square Garden against the New Jersey Devils on Sunday. With the rest of the Metropolitan grinding out wins every night, there is a necessity to pick up points in each of these three games to keep steady with the Penguins and surging Flyers.
After those three games, the Rangers play the red-hot Penguins in Pittsburgh for the third time in a month. Pittsburgh is 13-2-1 at home so far and has won seven straight hockey games entering Thursday’s contest. If the Rangers can string together points in each of the next three games and then go into Pittsburgh and beat the Penguins, the league will finally begin to take notice and see that this Rangers team is a legitimate contender yet again.
As Josh Jooris was waived by the Rangers, one is lead to believe the injuries that have piled up are beginning to slowly heal up. That is true in the case of Rick Nash, who will be suiting up against the Stars on Thursday after missing over a week of games due to a groin injury. Nash has bounced back quite nicely and is on pace for a 25- to 30-goal season as long as he can remain healthy. Having Nash back makes the team stronger as a whole, providing a player who can defend, pass, and score, filling any and every role asked of him by head coach Alain Vigneault.
The injury news for Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich has been a tad bit harder to come by as of late. Zibanejad is still in a walking boot but has been seen working with his stick from the bench as seen above. This is positive news, signifying that his rehabilitation is going well enough to where he can start getting back into hockey mode after missing multiple weeks with a broken fibula.
The waiving of Jooris and demotion of Nicklas Jensen by the Rangers gives off nothing but positivity on Buchnevich’s long awaited return back into the lineup. This is good news for a Rangers team that’s had some very mediocre offensive games as of late. Buchnevich is an extremely talented offensive player who can help weather the storm of offensive mediocrity the Rangers have had over the last few weeks. That being said, with the return of Zibanejad and Buchnevich inching closer and closer, the Rangers are in a prime position to compete for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.