Fatigue in February? Don’t want to hear about it. Or the condensed schedule. Or mystifying poor starts. Or a power play that can be tough to watch. Or defensive lapses that allow wave after wave of odd-man rushes.
Okay, a few instances are acceptable, but the Rangers shouldn’t have any excuses for a poor February.
If they founder, it will be because a team that exceeded expectations for the first 49 games of the regular season isn’t quite ready to contend. Forget any more Valentines from the fans and the media.
Consider: The Blueshirts will play eight of 13 games next month at Madison Square Garden. Only three road games require flights — none longer than to Ohio — and they play on consecutive nights just once. Oh, and the other two games? A drive to Brooklyn and a drive to Newark.
Comparatively cushy, no?
To be sure, the Rangers (5-5 in their last 10 before this All-Star weekend) aren’t perfect, but they managed to rise up despite long recoveries from injuries to Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich, short-term setbacks for Rick Nash, and a defense with holes on the right side.
So management, coaches, players, yes, they all deserve credit. They’ve weathered plenty, including that little crisis of confidence that jarred Henrik Lundqvist, who, by the way, turns 35 on March 2.
Speaking of March, let’s put it plainly: Before the calendar turns to that month, which has the toughest travel of the season and five back-to-back sets, the Blueshirts must make the most of their opportunities in February at home, where they are just 14-10-1.
With 63 points and 33 games remaining, the Blueshirts need 38 points to hit 101, which they reached last season, and which over the last five full seasons guaranteed a playoff spot in Eastern Conference. So, the Rangers could hit that mark, with a doable 18-13-2. Sounds like a layup, right?
Actually, in the last five full seasons---tossing out the lockout year---they have averaged 102.4 points per campaign. Odds are, they will surpass 102.4 this time, but….
Anyway, that may be just enough for the first wild-card berth in the East. In the Metropolitan Division, Washington already has 72 points, Columbus, 68 and Pittsburgh, 65.
Since 2011-12, the Blueshirts have fared well at the Garden in February, going 22-6-4 over on Seventh Avenue. Past isn’t necessarily prologue, but Ryan McDonagh is optimistic.
“We’ve got a stretch of home games here coming out of the break, so that’s a good opportunity for us to get back on a roll again and rest up here a little bit,” McDonagh said before leaving for the All-Star weekend. “But ultimately, I like what our team’s done and we’re still in a good spot here as we continue with the season.”
MY THREE CENTS
The NHL is continuing to assess the possibility of playing two regular-season games in Europe next year, with one outdoors in Sweden. Wouldn’t mind seeing the Rangers in London, maybe at the 02 Arena, which sold out for Magic/Raptors. An outdoor game in soggy old England might be too ambitious…One possible right-handed d-man rental at the March 1 trade deadline for the Blueshirts? Sabres’ Cody Franson…Swing and some misses: The NHL’s panel that chose the top 100 players all-time somehow didn’t have room for Jarome Iginla (610 goals, more than Bobby Hull and Mike Bossy); Joe Thornton (992 assists, just 40 behind Mario Lemieux) and Hawks defenseman Pierre Pilote (3 Norris Trophies).
CIRCLE THESE DATES
Feb. 16 Rangers at Islanders. Blueshirts are 0-3 in Brooklyn.
Feb. 19 and 28. Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals come to town.
Feb. 21 Canadiens visit. Possible preview of first round in the playoffs?
2011-12 9-3-1 6-2-0 home/3-1-1 away
2012-13 6-4-2 4-2-1 home/2-2-1 away
2013-14 3-1-0* 2-1-0 home/1-0-0 away
2014-15 10-2-2 5-0-2 home/5-2-0 away
2015-16 10-3-1 5-1-1 home/5-2-0 away
In 1994 at Madison Square Garden, Mike Richter was spectacular, stopping 19 of 21 shots in the second period, including three breakaways by Vancouver’s Pavel Bure and was named MVP of the 9-8 win by the East. In a flashback months later, Richter again denied Bure, this time on a memorable penalty shot in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Five years ago, Marian Gaborik had a hat trick in Ottawa with two of the goals against then-teammate Henrik Lundqvist. The two had chirped all week after Team Chara “drafted” Gaborik, while Team Alfredsson, with Lundqvist, had passed over the talented winger, who had already scored 25 goals. Alfredsson even picked Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi over Gaborik. And when Gaborik, who also had an assist and won the MVP in the 12-9 victory, scored his second against The King, he celebrated with the knee-down, sniper pose that yet