Although they have won 10 of the last 12 games, the Rangers aren’t exactly humming like Henrik Lundqvist’s Maserati. But it’s a long way from the first few weeks of the season, when the Blueshirts were rattling along and leaking oil like a rusty jalopy.
“This is a good team that’s on a roll,” said former Islander Travis Green, the coach of the Vancouver Canucks, who fell to the Rangers, 4-3, in a Sunday afternoon shootout at Madison Square Garden.
On Tuesday, the Blueshirts, with a 2-6-2 start finally in the rearview mirror, are aiming for their fifth consecutive win and ninth straight at home. They will face the Florida Panthers, who will be on the second night of a back-to-back.
Yet if any game had “trap” written on the dressing room marker board, it’s this one against the Panthers, who were 8-12-2 before facing the Devils in Newark on Monday.
For the last three games, the Rangers haven’t been sharp in the first 20 minutes, relying on Lundqvist to rescue them. They surrendered 17 shots in Carolina, were outshot 17-6 against the Red Wings in the first period and 11-4 by the Canucks before victories in each.
“It was a little bit of a slow start again,” Rick Nash said after Sunday’s game. “We have to try to figure out the first periods in the next few days.” The disjointed openings were reminiscent of first periods early in the season, when Lundqvist wasn’t at the top of his game, either and couldn’t hold the fort.
But in his 12 starts since Oct. 31, he has gone 10-2, with a 2.28 GAA, a .930 save percentage and leads the NHL in wins over that stretch.
Nonetheless, Lundqvist, the key factor in the recent run, knows he alone can’t carry the load every night.
“Everybody makes a difference, every shift . . . you can’t take a shift off. It’s the same thing for me, every shot matters, every pass matters,” he said. “It was sloppy [Sunday]. I felt like we can play a lot better.”
Notes & quotes: Two players to watch: Kevin Shattenkirk, who scored twice, including the game-winner, in the first matchup with the Panthers in Sunrise on Nov. 4, a 5-4 overtime win, and J.T. Miller, who had a career-high three assists in that game . . . It remains unclear whether defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who has been shut down for three games to try to heal a nagging abdominal strain that coach Alain Vigneault described as “mild” will dress. It’s possible that the captain will test his readiness in the morning skate at the Garden. But the doctors and trainers could be cautious and hold him out until Friday’s home rematch against the Hurricanes . . . Don’t be surprised if center Cristoval (Boo) Nieves is back in the lineup after missing the Canucks game with a hip pointer, and David Desharnais is a healthy scratch.