The Rangers have rarely lost two games in a row this season, and they’ve only had one three-game slip (in November), but the last two games have been some heavy losses.
The losses to the Blue Jackets and Wild marked only the second time this season that the Rangers have come away from two consecutive games without a single point, which is a testament to how strong their first half was. There were a few failed 2-0 leads, some rocky pieces of play and a plunge in the standings as a result.
After the Penguins collected a point in a shootout loss to the Red Wings on Friday, Pittsburgh had 61 points and the only possession of first place in the Metropolitan Division and a point ahead of the Rangers and Hurricanes. The Capitals also took two runs after beating the Stars and came within three points of the Rangers.
The Hurricanes, who had a win and had five games in hand over the Rangers, got a chance to jump to the top of the division when they hosted the Devils on Saturday night.
While the Rangers have put themselves in a comfortable position for the playoffs, the Metro is arguably the tightest division and a few regulatory losses will be costly. The teams at the top of the division were neck and neck, but the Rangers managed to get it right.
“It is essential in this league to play a full 60… [minutes]said defender Ryan Lindgren after Friday’s 3-2 loss to the Wild. “When you get to those leads, you have to make sure you play smart and don’t let teams get back in there. So that’s definitely something we need to clear up.”
The Rangers are 16 points ahead of ninth in the Eastern Conference and just three points from a wildcard position, currently fifth in the conference. After such a fruitful first half, it wouldn’t be ideal to end up battling for a wildcard spot, as the Rangers have been in the play-offs for most of the season.
With the next two games to be played at home, starting with a Sunday afternoon matinee with the Kraken, the Rangers are looking to face the All-Star break at a high level. The Rangers return against the Bruins on February 15, the first of two consecutive home games. Even though the Rangers don’t have two forwards, Kaapo Kakko and Filip Chytil, and their number 1 defender, Adam Fox, they should still be able to grab some points against the Kraken and Panthers.
Fox will not be eligible to return to the lineup until after the All-Star weekend in Las Vegas, and it is still unclear if he will participate. Head coach Gerard Gallant said the Rangers could also be without Kakko (injured reserve) for some time, but Chytil, who suffers daily from a lower body injury, could return in the coming games.
The Rangers have survived before with a depleted lineup, but Fox’s absence is another void to fill. If this arduous journey continues until the Rangers’ two-week hiatus in February, it wouldn’t be the end of the world, but it wouldn’t make things any easier either.
There are still 37 games to go in the season. There is a lot of time left. Everything can happen.