The Rangers enter another week of work with just three games, two on the road, but both within 400 miles of the bright lights of Broadway. The Rangers will be facing divisional rivals, first in Pittsburgh, then in Washington, and finally the Devils… and these are not the matchups that we’re used to in years past.
The Metropolitan Division is extraordinarily tight, with the top six teams separated by only five points. Of course, only about a third of the way through the season is not the ideal time to discuss playoff seeding, but it’s likely that this will be a nail biter all the way through April. Here are the standings as of last night:
Keeping the intensity of the division in mind, the Rangers really need each and every point they can get. Let’s take a look at how these matchups work for the Blueshirts this week.
Tuesday, December 5 at Pittsburgh Penguins (15-10-3):
The Penguins have spent the past week making up for lost points, winning their last four and planting themselves right back in the Wild Card race. They could probably be seen as an example of how a good streak can get a team right back in, the same way the Rangers did a few weeks ago. Oddly enough, the winning streak continued despite the Penguins losing their starting goaltender, Matt Murray, to an Voracek-induced lower body injury.
Tristan Jarry is the new goalie in Pittsburgh, and has given up just one goal in his two starts so far. Granted, he’s seen forever-inept Buffalo in back-to-back contests, but it’s worth noting that he’s off to a hot start. Luckily, the Rangers can cash in on this backup situation should they continue with their hot offense. This is a winnable game for the Rangers, even without Mika Zibanejad.
Friday, December 8 at Washington Capitals (15-11-1):
The Caps are ahead of the Rangers by only one point, but they’re pretty hot right now, with five wins in their last seven games. They have a busy week ahead, playing two in a row on Tuesday and Wednesday, but are home for all of them. The point here is that what the Rangers will see is likely what the Capitals are.
Braden Holtby is still irritatingly good, sporting a .919 save percentage, and Evgeny Kuznetsov is leading the team in points. The team themselves are not very good with possession. Should the Rangers continue an offensive onslaught, and keep it up for sixty minutes, they can certainly win this game and jump over the Caps in the standings (should all other factors stay the same). The key here will be to avoid penalties, thus avoiding Alex Ovechkin from his home on the left faceoff circle.
Saturday, December 9 vs. New Jersey Devils (15-7-4):
Here’s the difficult matchup of the week, which still feels strange and dirty to say. Despite our best efforts to send bad vibes their way, the Devils keep on rolling this season. The only semi-positive bit of news is that Adam Henrique was traded for Sami Vatanen (sorry Dave), so we might not have to hear about 2012 for once in our lives.
The last time these teams met (on October 14), the Rangers lost 3-2 to backup goalie Keith Kinkaid, who has proven to be a formidable option in Newark. The Devils will be on the second half of a back-to-back, as will the Rangers, so the goalie matchup is a total crap shoot at this point. What we do know is that the Rangers play extremely well at home, and playing the Devils is always a reason to light a fire under their behinds. Despite young talent, I think the Rangers will benefit and be able to take this one.
NYR 3 – PIT 4 (OT)
NYR 2 – WSH 0
NYR 4 – NJD 2
The Rangers have the potential to do some damage this week while also resting up some banged up players, thanks to a light schedule. Though two of these will be road games, something the Blueshirts are not familiar with this season, they’re close and familiar enough that it shouldn’t be too troublesome.
What do you think this week will look like?