Rangers celebrate a hat-trick goal by left wing Chris Kreider,...

Rangers celebrate a hat-trick goal by left wing Chris Kreider, center, against the Arizona Coyotes in the third period of an NHL game at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

THEIR CORE PLAYERS GOALIE IGOR SHESTERKIN, DEFENSEMEN ADAM FOX AND JACOB TROUBA, AND FORWARDS ARTEMI PANARIN, MIKA ZIBANEJAD, CHRIS KREIDER AND RYAN STROME — MUST STAY HEALTHY.

The Rangers are heavily reliant on the power-play unit of Fox, Zibanejad, Kreider, Panarin and Strome to provide most of their offense, so losing any one of them for an extended period would be a huge hole to fill. They lost Fox to an upper-body injury for the last 3 1⁄3 games before the break, and Strome (in October) and Panarin (last month) missed time with COVID-19. Aside from that, the core has been healthy. It needs to stay that way.

ALEXIS LAFRENIERE AND KAAPO KAKKO NEED TO SCORE MORE.

Kakko missed the last six games before the break with an upper-body injury, but in the 37 games he played in the first half, he had only five goals and nine assists. That’s not enough. He is contributing in other ways — he holds possession in the offensive zone and is responsible defensively — and that’s all good, but the team needs him to score goals. Lafreniere had a goal in each of the last two games and 10 overall. He needs to adjust to playing right wing so he can play with Zibanejad and Kreider and Kakko can move to play with Panarin and Strome.

ALEXANDAR GEORGIEV NEEDS TO STEAL A GAME OR TWO DOWN THE STRETCH WHEN CALLED UPON.

Georgiev has played well when he’s had the opportunity to string some games together with Shesterkin on injured reserve or out with COVID. When Shesterkin has been healthy and Georgiev’s playing time has been scarce, he hasn’t done as well. Shesterkin can’t play all 35 of the remaining games, so Georgiev is going to have to pick up his game so the Rangers can trust him enough to give Shesterkin an occasional night off.

THE GARDEN HAS TO BE AN ADVANTAGE.

Twenty of the last 35 games are at home, where the Rangers are 15-4-2. If they can do the job at home, they’ll be rewarded with home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

GM CHRIS DRURY HAS TO ADD THE RIGHT PIECE(S) AT THE MARCH 21 TRADE DEADLINE.

As of right now, the Rangers are crying out for a top-six right wing to play with either Kreider and Zibanejad or Panarin and Strome. Kakko can fill one of those spots, but the jury is out as to whether Lafreniere can fill the other adequately. If he can, that leaves a hole on the third line. Either way, Drury, with all that cap space available and all those prospects to offer, needs to get a forward who can make an impact during the season’s final six weeks and into the playoffs.

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