DENVER, CO - JANUARY 20: Brady Skjei #76 of the...

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 20: Brady Skjei #76 of the New York Rangers plays the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center on January 20, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. Credit: Matthew Stockman / Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — California dreaming?

Not necessarily.

Call it California hoping.

From the top down, these are more challenging than pleasant times for the Rangers.

Consider: After a 3-1 loss to the Avalanche in Colorado on Saturday, the shorthanded Blueshirts, with Chris Kreider, Kevin Shattenkirk, Kevin Hayes, Marc Staal and Michael Grabner sidelined for that game, still had a gauntlet to run, beginning Sunday against the Kings and continuing against the Ducks and Sharks later this week.

The Rangers were first in the NHL with the fewest man-games lost to injury as of Thursday, but the number is trending down. Grabner (flu) was back Sunday, sending rookie Daniel Catenacci to the sidelines. Hayes (leg bruise) missed his fifth straight and Staal (hip flexor) was not 100 percent. He was a game-time decision.

And two other key players are out longer. Chris Kreider, who had a rib resection to treat a blood clot on Jan. 7, is still about four weeks from even being re-evaluated. There is no timetable for his return. Kevin Shattenkirk will undergo surgery Monday to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. NHL and NBA players generally miss four-to-six weeks after meniscus surgery and Shattenkirk said Friday that he wouldn’t miss the entire season. But it depends on the severity and the rehab: Devils forward Taylor Hall missed just eight games after meniscus surgery last season. The Rangers described Shattenkirk as out indefinitely.

The missing persons have led to a shift in strategy. The north-south speed game has morphed into a checking system.

“We need to make sure our energy level is good, in our back-to-back, so short shifts, and our focus is going to be on defense,” said coach Alain Vigneault. “We’re playing against a desperate opponent [the Kings had lost six straight] and we’re desperate also, we need some wins.”

Henrik Lundqvist, who has navigated the waters of 30-plus shots against per game, was in net. “He was good Saturday afternoon, he looks energized and wants to play,” Vigneault said. Ondrej Pavelec remained as backup.

Vigneault liked the compete level of his hobbled squad in Denver. The Rangers trailed 2-0, then got back into the game on a power-play goal Pavel Buchnevich in the second period. The Avalanche held off the Rangers in the third and won their ninth straight. For another game, however, the Rangers allowed almost 40 shots.

For Vinni Lettieri, Peter Holland, Tony DeAngelo and Paul Carey, summoned from the AHL, this Western swing provides an opportunity for ice time and to impress coaches and management. Are they worthy of staying? Also, the Rangers are fighting for a playoff berth in a tightly-contested race.

Remember, on Jan. 26, the final day of the All-Star break, it will be exactly a month before the NHL trade deadline. A continued slide beyond the break could clarify general manager Jeff Gorton’s decisions on which assets to move, and which deals to make.

Notes & quotes: The Blueshirts will travel to Anaheim Monday. The Ducks are 6-3-1 in the last 10. The Sharks are in second place in the Pacific Division . . . Both the Rangers and Knicks played at Staples Center on Sunday. Last time those teams played the same day in a building other than MSG was in Boston Garden, Feb. 3, 1957, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The Blueshirts lost, 4-1, and the Knicks fell, 116-98.

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