The New York Rangers are on quite a roll, a roll that’s all the more impressive considering they’re doing it without some of their top players in the lineup. But that, too, will change as the Rangers head down the stretch as the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.
The New York Rangers are clearly emerging as a team that can play the game any way you want it. They’ve won seven of their past eight games. In the first seven of those games, they scored a total of 11 goals. Then on Sunday, facing the high-flying Anaheim Ducks, they poured seven into the back of the net.
The Rangers are strong and with goalie Henrik Lundqvist coming back any day now, they’re getting stronger. They’re doing a lot of damage without Martin St-Louis and Kevin Klein. And that’s why they hold down the No. spot in thn.com’s Power Rankings for the second straight week. (Last week’s ranking in parentheses.)
1. N.Y. RANGERS (1): We said in this space last week that Lundqvist would return to the Rangers net tonight against Los Angeles. Well, we didn’t count the baby factor, which caused him to miss a couple of days. Look for him to start either Thursday or Saturday. Coming up: They can derail a few playoff hopes. Home to the defending Cup champs tonight, then on the road in Ottawa and Boston.
2. MONTREAL (7): With his next shutout, Carey Price will hit double figures, becoming the first Canadiens goaltender to hit 10 shutouts in a season since Ken Dryden for the juggernaut Habs in 1976-77. Coming up: Price will go head-to-head with Pekka Rinne in Nashville tonight, then it’s off to Winnipeg.
3. TAMPA BAY (5): Steven Stamkos got in the second fight of his career and it energized his team so much that it beat the Bruins for the first time in 10 games. God bless old-time hockey. Coming up: At home to Florida tonight and Nashville Thursday, then on the road for five straight.
4. OTTAWA (10): The Senators were 14 points out of a playoff spot on Feb. 8, then finally after a burger-throwing flurry, the Senators found themselves among the playoffs cool kids with a 5-2 win over San Jose Monday night. Coming up: Andrew Hammond’s 14-0-1 record will be put to a huge test Thursday night when the Senators host the Rangers.
5. WINNIPEG (17): Fresh off being named first star of the week, the rejuvenated Ondrej Pavelec stopped 33 shots in a game in which the Jets were outshot by double figures, but defeated Edmonton 4-1. Coming up: In Vancouver tonight, then home for four straight as the march to the playoffs continues.
6. MINNESOTA (6): The Wild chalked up its ninth straight road win in Toronto Monday night. The Wild’s penalty killing, ranked first in the league, has been as good as their power play, ranked 27th, has been bad. Coming up: On the road tonight against the Islanders, then five straight at home.
7. CHICAGO (4): Captain Jonathan Toews, who has quietly put together an MVP-type season, earned an assist in Chicago’s 3-1 win over Carolina Monday night to notch the 500th point of his NHL career. Coming up: Games in Philadelphia and Winnipeg separated by a home game against Columbus.
8. ST. LOUIS (2): In their loss to Detroit Sunday the Blues gave up two goals – one off the face of defenseman Chris Butler and the second from a broken stick. Good teams know how to shake off those kinds of games and the Blues are a good team. Coming up: A mammoth seven-game road trip ends tonight in Pittsburgh, then the Blues get four days off.
9. ANAHEIM (2): After watching his team lose 7-2 to the Rangers Sunday, Bruce Boudreau was almost as upset as he was a couple of years ago during his expletive-laced tirade on The Road to the Winter Classic. Almost. “We looked more like No. 30 than we did No. 1 tonight,” he said. Coming up: A five-game road trip through the Eastern Conference continues tonight in Columbus.
10. NASHVILLE (14): The Predators 3-0 win over Buffalo Saturday marked the first time in seven games and the second in 10 that they had scored more than two goals in a game. Since it was against the Sabres, does it even count? Coming up: At home to Montreal tonight, then their last two Eastern Conference opponents this season on the road in Tampa and Washington.
11. VANCOUVER (13): The Canucks continue to surprise. Their 22 wins on the road is best in the Western Conference and second only to the Rangers for the overall NHL lead. Of their 42 wins, 38 have come in regulation or overtime. Coming up: A huge game when they host Winnipeg tonight, then home to Colorado and Dallas.
12. DETROIT (8): Red Wings fans are holding their collective breath at the moment. Pavel Datsyuk practiced Monday, but has no set timetable for a return from a lower-body injury that has kept him out of the past three games. Coming up: Home to Arizona tonight, then the Red Wings host San Jose and Tampa Bay.
13. N.Y. ISLANDERS (11): In a decision that raised more than a few sets of eyebrows, coach Jack Capuano made top-four defenseman Calvin de Haan an healthy scratch for the Islanders 3-0 win over New Jersey Sunday. Coming up: Next three at home starting tonight against Minnesota, all against Western Conference teams.
14. CALGARY (16): Pop quiz: Who leads the NHL in scoring in the month of March? By golly, it’s Jiri Hudler, who has 8-9-17 totals in just 11 games. Coming up: Home to Dallas Wednesday night, then what could be a season-defining five-game road trip, with four of them against Central Division opponents.
15. PITTSBURGH (15): Evgeni Malkin is still out and coach Mike Johnston assessed his chances of playing tonight against St. Louis as “50-50 or a little bit longer.” The reeling Penguins need all the help they can get. Coming up: A tough one tonight, then three winnable games in Carolina and home to Arizona and San Jose.
16. WASHINGTON (9): With four days off, the Capitals are approaching this week like a mini training camp. Without a playoff spot officially sown up, the Caps should benefit from the rest. Coming up: Thursday night at home to New Jersey, then Saturday afternoon against Nashville.
17. FLORIDA (21): If the Panthers are going to make the playoffs, they’re going to have to do it the hard way. They open a five-game road trip, all against teams in the Atlantic Division, tonight in Tampa Bay. Coming up: Starting tonight in Tampa, then it’s Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Boston.
18. DALLAS (22): The Stars pretty much have to run the table in their last nine games to have any hope of making the playoffs, and that might not even be enough to get them in. Coming up: A three-game road trip through Western Canada that begins Wednesday night in Calgary.
19. LOS ANGELES (18): The Kings usually wait until the last five games of the season to clinch a playoff spot, but they’re really playing with fire this season. Really, recalling Mike Richards is the answer here? Coming up: A six-game road trip continues with a rematch of the Stanley Cup final tonight against the Rangers.
20. BOSTON (12): What’s so mystifying about the Bruins is not only that they play so poorly at times, but that they do so with such a lack of urgency. “You look at other teams we’re battling and they’re going at it every single night,” Brad Marchand said after Sunday’s loss to Tampa Bay. “We don’t know if we’ll get that each night.” Coming up: Home to Anaheim Thursday and the Rangers Saturday.
21. COLORADO (19): The Avs have not been officially eliminated from the playoff race, but their 3-2 loss to Calgary Monday night certainly had that kind of feel to it. They’re 10 points out of a playoff spot with 10 games to go. Coming up: Back-to-back road games against Edmonton and Vancouver Wednesday and Thursday night.
22. COLUMBUS (26): And in this installment of the NHL’s favorite game show, Who’s Hurt on the Columbus Blue Jackets This Week? we present Brandon Dubinsky, Alexander Wennberg, Artem Anisimov and Rene Bourque. Coming up: Bourque will likely miss grudge matches tonight at home to Anaheim and Friday night in Chicago.
23. SAN JOSE (20): The Sharks talked about being in desperation mode prior to their game Monday night in Ottawa, but after a 5-2 loss, sounded a lot like a team that is resigned to missing the playoffs. “We’re not good enough right now to compete against good teams in the NHL,” Logan Couture said. Coming up: Three in four nights on the road in Detroit, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh starting Thursday night.
24. PHILADELPHIA (24): Flyers GM Ron Hextall held a conference call on Monday and said, while he’s disappointed with the results, he’s happy with the compete level. “I wouldn’t say effort is a problem here,” Hextall said. “We’ve got a pretty good group of people.” Coming up: Home to Chicago Wednesday, then San Jose on Saturday.
25. CAROLINA (25): The Hurricanes have earned two points in their past four games, which isn’t bad considering they’ve scored only four games in that time span. Coming up: Former Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford returns for the second time as the GM of the Penguins when Pittsburgh visits Thursday night.
26. NEW JERSEY (23): Mike Cammalleri returned Monday night after missing two games with the flu, but he couldn’t help the flagging Devils win. “Unless we want to get embarrassed, we better keep together,” goalie Cory Schneider said cryptically after a 3-1 loss to Los Angeles Monday night. Coming up: On the road for three of the next four, starting Thursday night in Washington.
27. EDMONTON (28): Well, at least Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will have a hot stick going into the World Championship this year. He’s posted 7-11-18 totals in his past 12 games. Coming up: Home to Colorado Wednesday and Ottawa Friday, then three straight on the road.
28. BUFFALO (30): For all you conspiracy theorists out there, the Sabres led the Dallas Stars three times Monday night and lost the lead three times before losing 4-3. Coming up: In the space of five days, the Sabres play Arizona twice, once at home and once on the road. The best chance of getting Connor McDavid hangs in the balance.
29. TORONTO (27): Any notion that this team is playing the game the right way and losing has been smashed. The Leafs have lost six in a row and have been outscored 25-10 in those games. Coming up: The march toward the end of another dismal season continues with the next three at home, starting with Florida Thursday night.
30. ARIZONA (29): Goaltending coach Sean Burke has been given permission to seek elsewhere and it’s likely the highly regarded former NHL goalie will find it. Good for him. The Coyotes are a tire fire. Coming up: The Coyotes play Buffalo twice in the next week, once at home and once on the road. That should be interesting.