Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers get clobbered by the Devils Tuesday night.
The Rangers’ 5-2 loss to the Devils Tuesday was a humbling night for a team which thought it had righted the ship after its woeful December and inconsistent January, a reminder that this year’s group may not be equipped to make the kind of playoff run it has the last two years.
Tuesday’s defeat and last week’s struggles in a win over the last-place Maple Leafs have the Rangers wobbling ahead of Monday’s trade deadline, giving general manager Jeff Gorton plenty to think about.
A penalty killer and a forward with a scoring touch would certainly help matters, and the Rangers in theory could solve those issues with the return of Rick Nash from a left-leg bone bruise which has kept him out for the last month, but when he’ll be healthy remains uncertain as he is still week-to-week.
Any moves the Rangers may make won’t alone solve the issues present in Tuesday’s loss, when the Rangers were outshot 17-5 by the Devils in the second period, one Alain Vigneault thought could’ve been the team’s “worst period of the year.” Henrik Lundqvist was constantly under pressure throughout the 20 minutes, a defense without Ryan McDonagh (jaw contusion/neck spasms) and Marc Staal (lower-body tweak) still boasting four veterans allowing a ton of easy chances against a Devils team which has scored the fewest goals in the NHL.
“They outworked us in the second,” Derek Stepan said after the loss. “We try to play the same way, we’ve gotta have guys step up, we’ve gotta have a team effort, make sure everyone’s stepping into big roles and pulling the same rope. We have some guys that are hurt, guys that are down and we’re gonna need 20 guys competing every night.”
The Rangers (34-20-6, 74 points) allowed the Devils (30-24-7, 67 points) to pull to within a point of the Penguins for the second Wild Card spot entering Wednesday, an off day for the Blueshirts as they traveled to St. Louis for Thursday’s game against the Blues before a Saturday match in Dallas. They also saw the gap between them and the third-place Islanders shrink to three points as the Isles defeated the wild on Tuesday.
Defenseman Brady Skjei was sent back down to AHL Hartford Wednesday after logging a team-high 22:17 of ice time Tuesday in his third career NHL game. That means at least one of McDonagh or Staal will be healthy enough to play Thursday.
The Blues (35-18-9, 79 points) also have significant injury issues which piled up this week. Winger Alexander Steen, who is second on the team in goals scored (17) and first in assists (30,) was ruled out for at least four weeks with an upper-body injury. Goaltender Brian Elliott is also out for at least four weeks with a lower-body injury. Elliott is 17-7-6 this season with a 2.14 goals against average and a .929 save percentage. Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (knee) was ruled out for Thursday’s game.
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