GREENBURGH, N.Y. — After the Rangers finish their games against the visiting Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night and the Flyers in Philadelphia on Wednesday night, half the regular season will be in the books. No other team in the Eastern Conference will have reached the 41-game mark earlier, and only two in the Western Conference, Winnipeg and Calgary, will be at the midpoint of the 82-game campaign.
Time for first-half assessments?
Chris Kreider, who was named the NHL’s second star of the week after registering four goals and an assist in three games, said just talking with teammates — new and old — has helped.
“When we’ve been successful, we’re working smart and as a five-man unit and breaking pucks out,” Kreider said. “There’s a lot of moving parts, but a lot of it has to do with communication. When it’s quiet out there, when it’s dead, when we’re not talking to each other, it’s hard.
“It’s a fast game, especially with the way a lot of teams want to play. Most teams now create offense off turnovers, so for us to limit that, it’s more communication, so guys are confident if they move their feet and pick the puck up, they’ve got their options, rather than going into a corner blind or standing around the boards waiting for a puck with the defensemen pinching . . . You know where the guys are. It’s hard to be vocal if you’re a young guy, but the more guys communicate on the ice, the better.”
After the Rangers (26-12-1, 53 points and on pace for a 100-plus-point season) practiced Monday, coach Alain Vig neault was positive about the progress since training camp.
“No doubt that we had a lot of questions coming into the season, about some of our young players we were putting into our lineup, about some of our veteran players, how they were going to respond,” he said. “I think for the most part, our game is headed in the right direction. We’re defending well, and quick, the way we had talked about. Offensively, we’re getting contributions from different areas, different lines. Our Ds also are finding ways to chip in. The specialty teams have improved.
“What teams want to do is get better during the regular season, and that’s what we’re doing right now. Do we really have a choice if you look at our division and how teams are winning?”
Notes & quotes: Rick Nash, recovering from a groin strain that will sideline him for a sixth straight game, skated as a defenseman and hopes to play before the NHL-mandated five-day break, which begins Sunday. With no practice before Wednesday’s visit to Philadelphia, the earliest Nash could play would be against his former team, the league-leading Blue Jackets, in Columbus on Saturday . . . Rookie Pavel Buchnevich, who will miss his 25th game while rehabbing from back issues, was in a non-contact jersey. “He’s closing in on that red jersey becoming a normal one; it’s a little slower than expected,” Vigneault said. “He skated real hard when we were gone and he looked real good today.” . . . Nicklas Jensen was recalled from Hartford on Monday night, so a forward is banged up or under the weather.