TORONTO — Sweeping a back-to-back set Friday and Saturday against two teams currently holding playoff spots had the Rangers feeling good about themselves heading into Sunday’s day off.
“I think we've been playing well,’’ defenseman Tony DeAngelo said Saturday night after his overtime goal gave the Rangers a 5-4 victory over the red-hot Toronto Maple Leafs. “We . . . haven't come out the way we want to in certain games, at the end of games, but we've been playing well. And [Saturday] might not have been our best game. Toronto played a pretty strong game, had a lot of chances, but it's good we found a way to win.’’
The Blueshirts have come out of the three-day Christmas break as well as they could have, with wins over Carolina, currently the holders of the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, and Toronto, the second-place team in the Atlantic Division. Now, they head to Western Canada, where they will face the Edmonton Oilers on New Year’s Eve, then Calgary on Thursday, before finishing the trip Saturday in Vancouver. Those three teams are battling in the tight Western Conference race and all three have more points than the Rangers, who are 19-15-4 (42 points).
The Rangers actually started the current trip in Toronto, and considered staying over and practicing in Toronto before flying to Edmonton. They decided instead to fly back to New York Saturday night after the game and spend the day off at home.
“We’ve got a couple days off here to recover, and then, obviously, a big Western swing,’’ said Ryan Strome, who had two goals and two assists against his hometown Maple Leafs.
Strome, who has four goals and three assists (seven points) in his last five games, will face his former team in Edmonton, which traded him to the Rangers in Nov. 2018 in straight one-for-one swap for Ryan Spooner. Strome's 35 points this season (10 goals, 25 assists) match the total he put up in 81 combined games last season for Edmonton and the Rangers. His career best point total is 50, with the Islanders in 2014-15 in his second NHL season.
“He does a lot of things,’’ Rangers coach David Quinn said of Strome. “He’s got a great brain, he’s playing with a little bit of edge to him, and a pace. He doesn’t overthink it, and he’s a really good player. And I think guys force offense or have a play in mind when they get a puck, as opposed to just playing hockey. And when this guy plays hockey, he’s very good.’’
Notes & quotes: Hartford Wolf Pack rookie coach Kris Knoblauch was named coach of the AHL’s Atlantic Division team for the 2020 AHL All-Star Classic, which will take place Jan. 26-27 in Ontario, California. Knoblauch led Hartford to an 18-8-7 record in the Wolf Pack’s first 33 games, the best record in the Atlantic Division. Rookie Igor Shesterkin leads all AHL goaltenders with a 1.98 goals-against average and is fourth in the league in save percentage (.932). Rookie Joey Keane is tied for second among AHL defensemen in goals with six, and he is tied for fifth with 21 points.