As this truncated NHL season reaches its final month today, the Rangers (16-15-3, 35 pts) desperately are seeking to find consistency in their game while solidifying their place in the Eastern Conference standings. Tonight the eighth-place Blueshirts return to Madison Square Garden to host the third-place Winnipeg Jets (18-16-2, 38 pts), the Southeast Division leaders who have beaten the Rangers twice already this season. In fact the Rangers are just 4-12-1 in games played against teams that are above them in the standings so far this season, a trend that must come to an end as thr Blueshirts will play 14 games in the final 27 days of the 2013 regular season---six at home and eight on the road.
Having been shut out in back-to-back games to close out their just-concluded three-game road trip, the Rangers have not scored a goal since last Tuesday's five-goal uprising in Philadelphia, a span of 127 minutes and 47 seconds. The Rangers have been shut out five times this season---three times in their last eight games---and their 78 goals scored are ten fewer than any other team in the Eastern Conference.
Yet it was a proud and conifdent team which practiced on Easter Sunday and met with reporters afterwards. Despite inconsistent play and tremendous struggles to put the puck in the net, the Rangers do own the final playoff seed in the East, and the team is looking to move up in the standings---not just cling to eighth place. Competition will be fierce down the stretch of the season, with the Rangers trailing the Devils by four points and currently tied with the Islanders at 35 points. The Hurricanes and Capitals are just one point behind the Blueshirts, while the Flyers are two back, the Sabres are three behind, and the Lightning are trailing the Rangers by only four points.
Bottom line---as Marian Gaborik likes to say---is that the Rangers need to start winning games on a consistent basis. The Rangers are only 1-3-1 in their last five contests, and 3-6-1 in their last ten. And tonight they return home for the first of two games in a row at The Garden---they also host the Penguins on Wednesday---and their last one before the trading deadline arrives Wednesday afternoon. Whether there are minor or major---or no---changes arriving on Wednesday is not yet known, but the players believe that the answers lie in their own dressing room already, not with the help of new players arriving.
There will be at least one change in the lineup this evening as Kris Newbury---who played the previous four---was sent back to the Connecticut Whale on Sunday. That would likely mean either Arron Asham or Darroll Powe will be reinserted into the Rangers lineup against the Jets.
Tonight the Rangers face a team they swept in all four games a year ago, but have struggled against this season. In fact a win tonight by the Jets would give Winnipeg a three-game series sweep and a reversal of last season against the Rangers. The Jets beat the Rangers 4-3 at The Garden on February 26th with Evander Kane scoring twice, including the clutch game-winner in the third period shortly after the Blueshirts had seemingly regained momentum in the game. And on March 14th out in Winnipeg, the Jets topped the Blueshirts 3-1---a game best remembered for Ondrej Pavelec stopping Gaborik on a breakaway and a penalty shot in the first period.
This is a big game for the Jets, too, as they are trying to fend off both Carolina and Washington for the top spot in the Southeast---and subsequently third place overall in the conference. Like the Rangers, Winnipeg has struggled offensively as of late, netting just two goals in their last four losses and being shut out twice in their last six games, going 2-4-0 in that span. The Jets have lost two in a row, losing a 3-1 home-ice decision to the Hurricanes on Saturday after being blanked by the Penguins 4-0 on the road Thursday.
The Jets actually have a better road record (10-7-2) than home record (8-9-0) this season, making them a tough mark for the Rangers tonight. However, the Jets have lost two of their last three away games.
Will the Rangers right their ship tonight? Share your predictions below.