When the New York Rangers aren’t dealing with a team mumps epidemic (you can potentially add Lee Stempniak and AHL Hartford Wolf Pack coach Ken Gernander to the list, who are currently being isolated and tested), they’ve been winning hockey games. They’re currently riding a four game winning streak, including a three-game sweep on their Western Canada road trip. For a team that has struggled to put together any sort of consistency in the winning department, a four game winning streak is something to hang your hat on. That being said, the Blueshirts last three games before Santa gets the sleigh going need to be wins as well.
Home and Home with the Carolina Hurricanes
-The Rangers four game road “trip” (they came back to New York City between the game in Calgary and Carolina) ends after Saturday night’s game in Raleigh. If you’re going to have a home-and-home on the schedule on back-to-back nights, you want to play against the team that has the league’s lowest point total (heading in to Thursday night’s action). The Hurricanes have been bit badly by the injury bug this season, but there weren’t high expectations for them in 2014-15 anyway. The Rangers struggled to beat Carolina back in October to get their first home victory of the season in a shootout, but the Rangers are playing better hockey than they were two months ago. If you think winning both games is a little greedy, than tallying three of the four possible points is a must.
First Meeting of the season with the Washington Capitals
-Despite being Metropolitan Division rivals, the Rangers and the Capitals are meeting for the first of four times this season on Tuesday 12/23. The Caps and Blueshirts are jockeying for third place in the Metro, with the Rangers , with Washington holding a two-point edge heading in to the weekend. With the Penguins and Islanders establishing themselves as the top two teams in the division at the moment (there’s still a lot of time remaining in the season, but both teams look like they’ll be strong the rest of the way), it’s important for the Rangers to take care of business against teams they’ll directly be battling with the rest of the way. The aforementioned Hurricanes should remain the division doormat the rest of the way, and the Flyers major defensive issues will keep them from competing for anything. The Devils are weathering a five game winless streak, and they haven’t done much to give their fans hope for a playoff run this season. The Columbus Blue Jackets are riding a seven game point streak, but they’ve still got some work to do since they’re still five points off the pace for third in the division. New York and Washington don’t meet again until March after Tuesday game.
You don’t want to make too much of a short stretch of games, but opportunities to accumulate points in bunches, especially against bad teams or teams you’re jockeying with, should never be wasted. The Christmas break acts as a natural pit stop in the season. If you’re a top team, you’re likely to stay in that category the rest of the way. If you’re a bottom –feeder, you’ll probably stay there too. But the middle of the pack is a wide open space, and the Rangers have an opportunity to build some serious momentum and push themselves towards the right side of the bell curve.