Weekly Preview: Who even knows anymore?

The Rangers will play some games this week. We think?

COVID protocol has thrown the NHL schedule off the rails, as the East Division has been particularly hard-hit. With the Devils, Flyers and Sabres all dealing with major outbreaks, the trickle-down effect means postponements for the rest of the division. The Rangers have already had two games postponed due to COVID, and this week’s schedule is far from a lock.

Before we preview this week’s scheduled games, a few thoughts on the current state of the Rangers, who have reached (roughly) the quarter-mark of their season.

  • The Rangers need to get healthy, and hopefully these long breaks will be beneficial for that reason. The Filip Chytil injury in particular is hurting the Rangers considering their already suspect center depth.
  • While the Rangers’ 4-6-3 record looks ugly, there are lots of reasons for optimism. One of those reasons came from Steve Valiquette yesterday on Twitter:

Valiquette’s company Clear Sight Analytics manually tracks and logs every shot and scoring chance in every NHL game. While some of their expected goals modeling differs from other public sites (Natural Stat Trick, Evolving Hockey, etc.), the tracking method is consistent and CSA’s data is used by some NHL teams.

As outlined in the Tweet above, Vally points out that the Rangers are simply not converting their “Grade A” chances, shooting 6.2% below expectation. However, as our own Rob Luker has pointed out, shooting percentage doesn’t always regress to the mean, especially in a shortened season. There is an element of the Rangers needing to “make their own luck” here, which leads me to my final point.

  • The power play. Woof. Gotta fix that, and in a hurry.

Now let’s take a look at this week’s games, and keep our fingers crossed that everyone stays healthy, and they actually happen:

Game 14 vs. New Jersey Devils (4-3-2) – Tuesday February 16

The Devils have not played a game since January 31, with seven total postponements in that time. While they were scheduled to return to practice today, 13 players were still on their COVID protocol list as of Sunday evening. It’s impossible to know what to expect from a team that hasn’t played in over two weeks. We also don’t know if any players on the list came down with a symptomatic or severe case of the virus.

All that said, the Rangers must have this game if it isn’t postponed due to COVID. They’re the better team in a matchup with the Devils absent any COVID issues, so playing a rusty and shorthanded squad at home means they should grab two points here.

Game 15 @ Philadelphia Flyers (8-3-2) – Thursday February 18

The Flyers currently have seven players on the COVID protocol list, and have had their last four games postponed. Their first game back will be this one against the Rangers (if it isn’t postponed due to COVID), meaning the Blueshirts get another shot at a team that will be completely out of rhythm.

As we mentioned in last week’s preview before the postponement of Sunday’s game, the Flyers are a team ripe for the picking. In the typical fashion of an AV-coached team, they concede puck possession and scoring chances at an alarming rate. Also, while the Flyers’ COVID list is shorter than the Devils’, it currently includes key players such as Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux. We’ll see if either is able to suit up on Thursday.

Games 16 and 17 @ Washington Capitals (6-4-3) – Saturday February 20 and Sunday February 21

The Rangers played one of their best all-around games this season last time out against the Capitals. That 4-2 win was back on February 4th, but feels like months ago at this point. The Capitals haven’t won since January 30, after getting off to a 6-0-2 start. They’re still considered a contender, but the Rangers have shown once that they can not just hang with the Caps, but soundly beat them. This will be an interesting series, with the games being played back to back. We saw lots of bad blood boil to the surface in the second game last week between the Rangers and Boston, so we’ll see if these games take on a similar tone.

Prediction: The Rangers are scheduled to play four games this week, and will actually play all four! In all seriousness, if this season is going to get back on track, the Rangers need no-nonsense wins against the Devils and Flyers.