GREENBURGH, N.Y. – Forward Dryden Hunt was activated off injured reserve and Barclay Goodrow was cleared from COVID-19 protocol Tuesday. Ryan Strome did miss practice for the second straight day, but Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said Strome will be "ready to go’’ for Wednesday’s home game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
So as they approach their 40th game, the Rangers are just about whole, with only forward Alexis Lafreniere and assistant coach Gord Murphy (both still in COVID protocol) currently unavailable. Both are eligible to return at any time.
With a 25-10-4 record that has them tied for first place in the Metropolitan Division, Gallant is feeling pretty good about his team.
"I'm happy where our team is,’’ he said after practice Tuesday. "We’ve got, what, eight games till the [All-Star] break? And… we're in first place in our division. A real good division. So I'm real happy.’’
Veteran forward Ryan Reaves, who was traded to the Rangers over the summer from the Vegas Golden Knights, said he has been surprised by the "maturity’’ of the Rangers, given how young the team is.
"There's been times where we've lost a couple games, and that can hurt a young team,’’ he said. "Sometimes you just kind of go off the rails, and you… don't know how to fix it. And you seem to go on a pretty big slide, and nothing really goes right. I feel like we haven't had those stints this year.’’
Through the first 39 games, the Rangers have not lost more than three consecutive games, and they have not lost more than two straight in regulation. They have repeatedly found different ways to win key games, and they have feasted on weaker teams, going 15-0 against the bottom 10 teams in the league.
Facing Toronto (24-9-3) Wednesday, and Carolina (26-8-2) on Friday represent a test that Reaves said the players in the locker room are looking forward to.
"We've talked about it,’’ he said. "It's time to start preparing for the playoffs. You're going to be playing [probable] playoff teams, in teams like Toronto and Carolina in a couple days, teams that are on top of the league. We’ve got to put our best game out there, and we've got to prove to ourselves that not only are we a playoff team, based on the standings, but we're ready to make a run at it.
"You can't do that just beating the teams that are out of the playoffs,’’ he said. "You’ve got to play playoff teams hard; you’ve got to play them physical. Sometimes you’ve got to push them out of the building… just to prove that you’ve got that little bit of a swagger in yourself.’’
NOTES: & QUOTES: Mika Zibanejad won the fan voting for the NHL’s Last Man In competition to join teammates Adam Fox and Chris Kreider at the All-Star Game Feb. 5 in Las Vegas. However, Zibanejad will not be attending the game, the Rangers said, for personal reasons. Pittsburgh forward Jake Guentzel will take his place… The Rangers assigned taxi squad forwards Tim Gettinger and Jonny Brodzinski to AHL Hartford