The New York Rangers enter tonight's matchup with the Winnipeg Jets losers of 5 of 8 since the Olympic break, and with a tenuous 1-point lead over Philadelphia for the final playoff birth in the Metropolitan Division. At least it isn't difficult to figure out what the problem has been.
With 18 goals in their last 8 games, the Blueshirts are averaging just 2.25 goals per contest. That number won't win you many games. The absence of Mats Zuccarello for 4 of those game, during which the Rangers went 1-3, scoring just 8 times in the process, hasn't helped, but even since the return of the diminutive one, and the acquisition of Martin St. Louis, the archetype Zuccarello is modelled after, finding the back of the net has been a struggle.
Alain Vigneault's tinkering of the lines in the third period of last night's loss to Minnesota resulted in 16 shots–more than the Rangers had in the previous two periods combined–but no goals. Some of the pressure in the third can be attributed to the Wild's willingness to sit back and play possum with the lead, but the new trio's of Chris Kreider, Brad Richards and St. Louis, and Carl Hagelin, Derek Stepan, and Rick Nash likely showed enough life for Vigneault to give them some run again tonight in Manitoba.
The Rangers, and their newest addition in particular, have the feel of a team that just needs to see the puck go in the net a couple of times to get their confidence back. Playing from behind is less than ideal in all situations–especially when you're struggling offensively–but that's exactly what the Blueshirts have been doing the last two games.
The good news? Winnipeg is 20th in the league having allowed a robust 2.82 goals per game, and has lost 5 in a row. The bad news? Trailing by 5 in the Western Conference wild card race, they'll be desperate, and the MTS Centre will be loud–if the hometown boys give them anything to cheer about.
"Two teams in need of a win." Get used to hearing that a lot over the next month. The playoffs start now for the Rangers.
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