The obstacle in the Rangers’ path to best record in the East

Written By kom nampuldu on Jumat, 20 Maret 2015 | 18.18

There are still goals for the Rangers, and they go beyond coach Alain Vigneault's incessant phrase of "getting a checkmark" by their name as a postseason contestant.

Those goals — winning the Metropolitan Division, locking up home ice throughout the first three rounds, and possibly winning the Presidents' Trophy — only come with more goals.

"Every game is different," Vigneault said after his team's most recent meager offensive output, a 1-0 loss to the Blackhawks at the Garden on Wednesday night.

No question that was a tight-checking game, a study from both teams in how to get into passing lanes and play in the defensive zone. But it also was the sixth game in the past seven in which the Rangers haven't scored more than two goals. They have 11 goals total during that stretch — mind you, they have managed a record of 5-1-1, and still hold a comfortable five-point lead over the Islanders atop the division while also holding three games in hand.

But with the Blueshirts' second-leading scorer, Martin St. Louis, likely to miss at least the next three games with his assumed right-knee injury, the task of getting their offense back on track is going to be more difficult. Even though St. Louis had just two goals in his past 10 games, his immense skill and pure goal-scoring ability always remained a threat.

Since St. Louis went down at the end of Sunday's 2-1 sneak-by win over the Panthers, Vigneault has moved Rick Nash back to right wing with Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider, a line that had a lot of chances against Chicago — really, Nash had a lot of chances — but still couldn't beat 26-year-old rookie netminder, Scott Darling.

"This is what you're going to see in the playoffs," Stepan said, referring to how little space there was on the ice and how well Darling played.

Stepan now has 11 straight games without a point, and 13 without a goal. Kreider hasn't scored in seven games, and even Nash has had to watch Alex Ovechkin pull away with the lead for the Rocket Richard Trophy, standing pat at 39 goals for the past four games while Ovechkin was at 45 before his team's game at Minnesota on Thursday night.

It also hasn't helped that the power play is 0-for-16 over the past six games, no matter how many forwards are out there.

The trickle-down effect of St. Louis' absence on the 5-on-5 units is that Kevin Hayes is now in Nash's spot on a line with Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello, three players who all like to be playmakers rather than shooters.

"Maybe we have to shoot a little more," Hayes said Wednesday after the three of them combined for three of the Rangers' 25 shots on goal.

Starting goalie Henrik Lundqvist will return soon, and very well could need a couple of starts to get himself into form matching that of his understudy, Cam Talbot, who continued his terrific run with a solid 30-save performance against the Blackhawks.

Following a day off on Thursday, the Rangers will practice for the first time with Lundqvist on Friday before flying to Raleigh, N.C., where they will face the Hurricanes on Saturday night. They'll return for Sunday's home match against the Ducks, then prepare to host the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings at the Garden on Tuesday.

When and if Lundqvist will be ready still is the main focus as the postseason nears. But no matter how good he is, the team is still going to have to score.

"I'm confident our whole group will find a way to put the pucks in the net at the right time," Vigneault said, "so we continue winning."


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