It doesn’t seem to matter who plays in goal for the New York Rangers these days. Behind arguably the best defense corps in the NHL and an opportunistic group of forwards, Henrik Lundqvist’s understudies have done just fine in his absence.
A source close to the New York Rangers told thn.com that the team has targeted the Rangers game March 24 against the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings for the return of Henrik Lundqvist.
But will King Henrik be able to find a place in the lineup? The Rangers are 14-2-3 with understudies Cam Talbot and Mackenzie Skapski in the lineup and have been the best team in the NHL since the calendar turned to 2015. Of course, Lundqvist will be back in the net for the Rangers after missing 23 games, as he should be.
But at least this team knows it has two capable guys if Lundqvist goes down again. And their contribution is a big reason why the Rangers are at the top of thn.com’s Power Rankings this week. (Last week’s rankings in parentheses.)
1. N.Y. RANGERS (2): The Rangers have been on an absolute tear in 2015. In March alone, they’re 6-0-1 and have allowed just five goals in those seven games. There is not a team playing better in the NHL than the Rangers are now. Coming up: Ten days after beating Chicago 1-0 in overtime, the Rangers take on the Hawks Wednesday night.
2. ST. LOUIS (8): Sometimes you worry about the Blues offense, like going into the third period Sunday against Dallas with just one goal in their previous eight periods. But then they score three and bury the Stars and you figure they’re all right. Coming up: A six-game road trip continues with a date in Calgary Tuesday night, then two more against Central Division foes.
3. ANAHEIM (9): Rookie John Gibson made his third straight start in the Ducks come-from-behind 4-2 win over Nashville Sunday and he now has five wins in his past six starts. Good problem to have. Coming up: Home to Los Angeles and Colorado, then five straight on the road to close out March.
4. CHICAGO (13): The Blackhawks seem to be adjusting to life without Patrick Kane. They’re 5-0-1 in the month of March. They’re 6-1-1 overall without their most dynamic offensive player. Coming up: Home to the Islanders Tuesday night, then the next four on the road.
5. TAMPA BAY (1): The Lightning generated just 16 shots against Winnipeg Sunday afternoon and displayed an uncharacteristic lack of passion in a 2-1 loss. “There was no urgency or passion,” Steven Stamkos said. Coming up: A huge game against Montreal at home tonight, then the next four, all against Atlantic Division teams, at Amalie Arena.
6. MINNESOTA (4): The Devan Dubnyk show continues. Even though he has benefitted from a much-improved team in front of him, he has stolen games. Case in point – 41 saves against St. Louis Sunday. Coming up: Further tests for Dubnyk coming tonight in Nashville, then on home ice against Washington and St. Louis.
7. MONTREAL (7): When the Canadiens scored three goals in their win over the Islanders Saturday – with one of them going into an empty net – it marked the first time this month the Canadiens have scored more than two goals in a game. Coming up: A huge test in Tampa Bay tonight, then they complete the back-to-back against Florida Tuesday.
8. DETROIT (10): Sometimes the mark of a good team is how it responds to a bad stretch. After losing four of their previous five, the Red Wings dominated Pittsburgh by a 5-1 count Sunday afternoon. Coming up: A four-game road trip finishes with a back-to-back series in Tampa and Florida Thursday and Friday.
9. WASHINGTON (12): Speaking of teams rebounding, the Capitals did not look good in back-to-back losses to the Rangers and Dallas. Coach Barry Trotz took away what was supposed to be a day off Saturday, and it responded with a 2-0 win over the red-hot Bruins. Coming up: A strange three-game road trip against Buffalo, Minnesota and Winnipeg starts tonight.
10. OTTAWA (15): Can Andrew Hammond really backstop the Senators to a playoff spot this season? After all, Hammond has gone 10-0-1 since Feb. 18, but the Senators have picked up just five points in the playoff race and are still five out. Coming up: In Carolina Tuesday night, then the next four straight at home.
11. N.Y. ISLANDERS (6): The Islanders are trying to put lipstick on the pig of this three-game losing streak by saying that it’s better to hit the skids now than in the playoffs. Coming up: On the road this week in Chicago and New Jersey, then home for four straight to close out the month.
12. BOSTON (14): The Bruins missed out on a chance to grab the first wildcard spot when they lost to Washington Saturday afternoon after winning their previous five. Coming up: Home to Buffalo Tuesday, then three on the road against Atlantic Division opponents.
13. VANCOUVER (11): The Canucks are suddenly getting healthier. For their 4-1 win over Toronto Saturday, the welcomed Kevin Bieksa, Chris Higgins, Brad Richardson and Yannick Weber back into the lineup. Coming up: Home games against Philadelphia and Columbus, then a weekend set on the road in Los Angeles and Arizona.
14. NASHVILLE (3): Is rookie phenom Filip Forsberg beginning to wear down? It sure looks that way. Forsberg has played more games this season than any other in his career and he hasn’t scored a goal in 10 games. Coming up: A three-game home stand begins Tuesday night against Minnesota.
15. PITTSBURGH (5): It’s one thing to lose a game, which the Penguins did Sunday afternoon when Detroit handed them a 5-1 beat down. It’s another to embarrass yourself with a host of bad penalties and get booed off your own ice. Coming up: A road trip might be the best thing for a team that starts a three-gamer in New Jersey Tuesday night.
16. CALGARY (17): Should we have been shocked that the Flames fell short in their bid to erase a two-goal deficit and came up short Saturday night in a 3-2 loss to Colorado? Given the way they’ve played this season, yes we should. Coming up: A crucial five-game home stand starts with a date against St. Louis Tuesday night.
17. WINNIPEG (16): Twin towers Tyler Myers and Dustin Byfuglien were back on the ice in practice today and Myers has declared himself ready for Tuesday night’s home game against San Jose. Coming up: Three tough ones at home against San Jose, St. Louis and Washington. The Jets have a pretty brutal schedule the rest of the way.
18. LOS ANGELES (20): Jarrett Stoll was injured in the Kings 4-0 win over the Canucks last Thursday and hasn’t even been on the ice since. He’s been ruled out for tonight’s game against Arizona. Coming up: After the Arizona game, the Kings go across town for a date with Anaheim, then are home to Vancouver (potentially huge game) on the weekend.
19. COLORADO (18): The Avalanche are five points out of a playoff spot and have three teams to leapfrog to get there. And they face a five-game road trip. That’s daunting for a team that’s just 13-12-8 on the road this season. Coming up: In Arizona and Anaheim to close out the week before Jarome Iginla returns to Calgary one week from today.
20. SAN JOSE (19): The Sharks had their own version of the soap opera parody The Californians when Joe Thornton and GM Doug Wilson got into a very public spat at a very inopportune time. Coming up: A season-defining road trip starts Tuesday in Winnipeg and follows with six more against Eastern Conference teams.
21. FLORIDA (21): The Panthers almost certainly won’t make the playoffs this season, but it’s not for a lack of effort. These guys show up. They had 98 shot attempts in their 2-1 loss to the Rangers Sunday. Coming up: Home games against division foes Montreal, Detroit and Boston.
22. DALLAS (24): The Stars go 4-1-0 on the road, then return home to lose to St. Louis. Perhaps that’s why they and the Blue Jackets are the only two teams in the league with winning records at home and losing marks on the road this season. Coming up: Home games against Pittsburgh, Chicago and Buffalo.
23. NEW JERSEY (22): GM Lou Lamoriello, who is also serving behind the bench, skipped the GM meetings this week and sent his son, Chris, to represent the team. Coming up: The Devils play three of their next four at home, starting with hosting Pittsburgh Tuesday night.
24. PHILADELPHIA (23): Jakub Voracek, who was leading the NHL in scoring at one point this season, scored his first 5-on-5 goal since Dec. 21 when he found the back of the net in a loss to Ottawa Sunday. Coming up: A three-game road trip through western Canada.
25. CAROLINA (25): There have not been many bright spots in Carolina this year, but one of them has been the play of Andrej Nestrasil, who came over from Detroit in November and has 5-9-14 totals in his past 16 games. Coming up: A stretch of six of their next seven at home begins Tuesday night against Ottawa.
26. COLUMBUS (26): Scott Hartnell was named first star of the week and it wasn’t just because he managed to go a whole week without getting hurt, unlike any of his teammates this season. The big guy had five goals in four games. Coming up: Five of their next six on the road, including a road trip through western Canada that opens Wednesday.
27. TORONTO (27): Phil Kessel has six goals in 2015. Again, Phil Kessel has six goals in 2015. Coming up: A three-game road trip through western Canada ends mercifully tonight in Edmonton, then the Leafs close out the month with five of their next six at home.
28. EDMONTON (28): Defenseman Nikita Nikitin, who has missed the past 20 games with a shoulder injury, could be in for tonight’s game against Toronto. Taylor Hall will take in his first full practice in more than a month on Tuesday. Coming up: Tonight’s game against Toronto marks the first of six at home.
29. ARIZONA (30): Coyotes coach Dave Tippett summarized his team’s terrible season when he recently said, “I think we make a lot of goalies look good.” Unfortunately for the Coyotes, Mike Smith has not been one of those goalies this season. Coming up: In Los Angeles tonight, then home for three straight.
30. BUFFALO (29): Perhaps Anders Lindback is not a lost cause. He arrived in Buffalo with an .875 save percentage. And while he has yet to win a game with the Sabres, his save percentage is a much more respectable .925. Coming up: Home to Washington tonight, then complete a tough back-to-back in Boston tomorrow.