Like peering through a kaleidoscope, the race for a playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division — and the Eastern Conference — keeps shifting and re-arranging itself.
Well, except at the top, where the Washington Capitals are a king that likely won’t be dethroned.
Where do the Rangers fit in all this? To be fair, there’s a lot of points on the table: Starting today, with 38 games left, a possible 76 points.
But you still have to collect the points and the Blueshirts have not shown any affinity to take them when they’re available. They have lost 15 games in regulation and are 8-10-3 on the road after Saturday’s 3-2 win in Philadelphia.
It’s never enough just to stand pat, especially in the East, a conference where no one except Alex Ovechkin and Co. has grabbed a stranglehold on a playoff spot. The Rangers have a fight on their hands. Coach Alain Vigneault has admitted that numerous times.
The Penguins, who have games in hand on a few teams, will be quicker with Carl Hagelin. The Islanders should be stronger when Johnny Boychuk and Travis Hamonic are healthy. The Flyers may make a second-half push. But the Hurricanes, despite their recent streak, and the Devils, are long shots. Columbus is too far back. All three are likely sellers.
There’s a school of thought that both conference wild cards could come from the Atlantic Division. Not sure I’m quite in that classroom. Montreal should put together a streak when Carey Price, last year’s NHL MVP, returns from injured reserve after the All-Star break. You can’t count out the Lightning, which may get a quality player for unhappy Jonathan Drouin; or the Red Wings, with Calder candidate Dylan Larkin, the Panthers, or the Bruins. I’m not sold on the Senators. The Leafs and Sabres are done.
Some other factors to consider:
Even when Henrik Lundqvist returns to form, Antti Raanta has to rise to the occasion. He’ll play a lot in the second half, and must contribute.
It’s difficult to imagine that the Blueshirts will succeed without the power play and penalty-kill delivering regularly. The kill had surrendered at least one goal in six of the last nine games, slid to 17th in the rankings and has just one shorthanded goal. An idea for the middling power play, ranked 15th: Granted, he’s no Ovechkin, but posting Dan Boyle in No. 8s favorite spot in the left circle for one-timers or to use his passing savvy makes some sense.
Are the Winnipeg Jets a seller in the west? Probably. Andrew Ladd, the 30-year-old, 6-3 left wing, seems right for the Rangers: A legit 20-goal scorer, great compete level, playoff-tested, an affordable rental. Do you part with Dylan McIlrath, a Western Canada native, a prospect and a pick?
Looking at ways to increase scoring
At the start of the 2005-06 season, rules and rink changes brought goal-scoring temporarily back up to six goals a game, but has since stayed around 5.3 in recent years. I’m not sure the proposal for bigger nets has traction, and maybe the goaltending equipment will be reduced again. Here’s two other thoughts:
For 2005-06, the neutral zone was reduced to 50 feet from 54. Wonder if that should be reversed? A smaller neutral zone helps trapping teams. A bigger zone might be beneficial for mobile teams to attack with more speed.
How about separating the benches? Put one on each side, centered on the red line. It spreads out players on line changes. And what the heck, put a penalty box on each side, too.
Sound Tigers out, Wolf Pack in?
Could the Hartford Wolf Pack eventually relocate to Bridgeport? The team will stay in Hartford through the 2016-17 season and have another one-year option remaining on their lease. The Islanders’ affiliate, the Sound Tigers, are currently in Bridgeport, where their lease runs until 2021, but is weighing a move to a renovated Nassau Coliseum, when it’s ready. If the Rangers agree to assume the Bridgeport lease, that apparently would contractually satisfy the city, which would still have a AHL team. The Garden would be 90 minutes closer for call-ups, and a Bridgeport home would tap into the Fairfield County market, which has a long-time contingent of Rangers fans.
TAKE A BREATHER
Enforced rest seems to have worked for Dan Boyle. Could it help Dan Girardi? Boyle, 39, had a productive December (5-4-9 in 13 games) after he was given days off earlier in the season.
Girardi, 31, who has insisted on playing through injuries in the last decade, is on pace to play his fewest games, but he’s okay with that. He played Saturday with eight stitches in his thumb, but a cranky knee and the ravages of time have changed his outlook.
“It’s a big adjustment, but it’s something where, at this point in my career---we’ve played a lot of games in the past four or five years---it’s something that might be the smart thing to do,” he said. “Down the road, come playoff time or whatever, I’ll feel a little better. Sometimes you’ve got to suck it up, and take a little bit of time off . It’s not really who I am, in the last nine years here, but I think it’s necessary that if something’s really bothering me, just to take some time off and let it heal.”
In his first three full seasons, from 2007-08 through 2009-10, Dan Girardi played all 82 games and another 17 playoff games. Since then:
Year Regular Season Playoffs
2010-11 80 5
2011-12 82 20
2012-13 46* 12
2013-14 81 25
2014-15 82 19
2015-16 38 TBA