GREENBURGH, N.Y. — The Rangers spent much of Friday’s practice working on their special teams, which, as center Kevin Hayes explained, is always nice to do when you get a few practice days in a row.
“It’s not often you get a couple days to practice, and when you can spend a chunk of practice on power play, it’s important,’’ said Hayes, who was able to play the last two games after crashing hard into the boards near the end of a 4-3 overtime loss to Arizona on Dec. 14 and practiced Friday for the first time since the incident. “Special teams, they win games. If you can win the special-teams battle throughout 60 minutes, you give yourself a chance to win.’’
The Rangers will need every weapon at their disposal to beat John Tavares and the high-flying Maple Leafs on Saturday in Toronto. At 23-10-2, the Leafs were tied for the second-best record in the league as of Friday.
The Rangers’ power play ranked 16th overall — the absolute middle of the 31-team league — in power-play efficiency with 20 goals on 101 chances for a success rate of 19.8 percent. They are better on the road, where they are ranked 10th with a success rate of 22.5 percent (9-for-40).
But things aren’t so good on the penalty kill. The Rangers are 25th overall when down a man, allowing 25 goals in 108 times shorthanded (76.8 percent). On the road, they are dead last, allowing goals one-third of the time when they are a man down (16 in 48 times shorthanded). They are better at home, where they are eighth in the league at 85 percent (nine goals in 60 chances).
“We’re trying to find the solution to that problem, but that’s a microcosm to our record in general,’’ coach David Quinn said, referring to the Rangers’ 11-4-3 home record and 4-9-2 road record. “We’ve got to be more consistent with the kill on the road.’’
Indecisiveness has been the biggest problem on the penalty kill, according to Quinn.
“I think we fight with when to be aggressive and when not,’’ he said. “The indecisiveness, I think, hurts us on the penalty kill. So we’ve got to balance that. I think when you struggle a little bit, you become less aggressive. You penalty kill with caution, and the slightest hesitation on the penalty kill puts you at a real disadvantage, especially against high-end skill and high-end power plays.’’
Toronto, with Tavares, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Co., has one of those. The Maple Leafs’ power play is seventh in the league (24-for-97 for 24.7 percent) and third at home (12-for-40, 30 percent).
So what’s the best way to avoid getting burned by the Leafs’ power play?
Said Hayes, “Stay out of the box and just limit their chances.’’
Notes & quotes: Quinn wasn’t sure if he will stay with the same lineup that beat Anaheim, 3-1, on Tuesday. Defenseman Fredrik Claesson is the only healthy extra . . . Quinn said he will split Saturday’s game in Toronto and Sunday’s home game against Philadelphia between his goaltenders, though he would not say who will start Saturday. It figures to be No. 1 Henrik Lundqvist, with backup Alexandar Georgiev playing Sunday . . . Jesper Fast (upper-body injury) and Cody McLeod (broken hand) practiced in non-contact jerseys. Neither will play before Christmas, Quinn said.