Ondrej Pavelec

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Rangers in danger of slipping out of playoff race

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At this rate, the New York Rangers might not even need to debate their possible fate as trade deadline sellers.

Tuesday presented the latest dispiriting loss for the Rangers as they fell 6-3 to the Anaheim Ducks despite generating a 44-31 shots on goal advantage. NHL.com’s Lisa Dillman collected some morose quotes from Henrik Lundqvist – who certainly had a tough night – but Mats Zuccarello most succinctly captured the mood and discomfort.

“It’s hard to be positive in times like this but nothing is going to help by thinking negative,” Zuccarello said. “I think we’ve got to take a lot from this game. A lot of guys stepped up, a lot of guys played good. But we gave up too many easy goals and you’re not going to win hockey games like that.”

Lundqvist didn’t make it through the first period (16:21) before making way for Ondrej Pavelec, but that wasn’t the only telltale sign of struggles for the Rangers.

Alain Vigneault said he “saw enough” after J.T. Miller made a turnover, gluing the young forward to the bench. One can understand sending messages, yet Miller’s been a key scorer for a team that needs any boost it can get.

This was the play in question: Ryan Getzlaf picked off Miller’s pass, leading to Adam Henrique‘s breakaway goal.

No one likes mistakes, but such decisions revved up the latest round of “Fire AV” talks from Rangers fans, who frequently cringe at lineup choices involving younger players such as Pavel Buchnevich.

Trouble ahead

So far, the Rangers have lost the first three games of their road trip (combined score: 13-6) and close the stretch off with a Thursday date against the Sharks in San Jose before getting what might be a much-needed All-Star break.

While this current road trip is nearing an end, the Rangers are going to pay for their home-heavy start to 2017-18 with what could be a blistering month-plus of challenges beginning in February. From Thursday’s game in San Jose to a March 10 contest in Florida against the Panthers, the Rangers play seven games at home versus 13 on the road.

They already trail the Capitals, Devils, Flyers, Penguins, and Blue Jackets at the moment, with very little separation from the Islanders in the Metro races. Such a stretch could really douse any momentum the Rangers have toward making a playoff spot, a possible reality that management seems aware of, as rumors swirl that they’re considering being trade deadline sellers.

And really, a big fall might just convince the Rangers to “pull off the Band-Aid” and retool.

Selling points

You could argue they already dipped their toes in the water by trading away Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta for futures.

Yes, such moves opened up room to sign Kevin Shattenkirk, but the Rangers generally got younger, and there are opportunities to do more of that. Consider some of the trade chips the Rangers boast:

After dealing with some truly puzzling puck luck for much of 2017-18, the goals are really starting to come for Nash. He scored two goals against the Ducks, representing his third multi-goal output in his last five games (six goals, one assist).

Nash has his critics, but he could be a scary weapon if asked to be more of a secondary scoring option after years of being asked to carry much of the offensive burden for the Rangers and previously the Blue Jackets.

  • Would the Rangers part ways with a young, pending RFA like Miller or Kevin Hayes?
  • Also, there are some guys with expiring deals in 2018-19 who would maybe stand as too bold to move, but could fetch quite the price. Zuccarello and Ryan McDonagh are justifiably beloved by much of the fanbase, yet their affordable contracts could make them highly desirable. McDonagh is 28 and Zucc is already 30, so if it’s rebuild time, those guys might be beyond their primes by the time a rebound is complete.

***

Moving Grabner and Nash makes the most sense, but the Rangers have to do some serious soul-searching.

At least they’ve seen this coming, and the next few weeks could very well provide that final push to sell mode.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Watch Henrik Lundqvist try to give Rangers bench a pep talk before entering game

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The New York Rangers did not exactly enter their bye week on a high note, losing five of their past eight games including a 2-1 decision in Vegas to the Golden Knights heading into the bye.

They were not particularly sharp in their return to action on Saturday afternoon, either.

With a back-to-back situation this weekend against the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault decided to give backup goal Ondrej Pavelec the start on Saturday afternoon, saving Henrik Lundqvist for the Sunday night game in Pittsburgh.

That decision kind of backfired because not only did Pavelec not play well, he ended up needing to use Lundqvist anyway.

After Pavelec gave up five goals on only 20 shots in 25 minutes of action, the Rangers had to call on Lundqvist to help … well … do something. Before he actually entered the game that “something” included him skating along the bench and trying to fire up his team.

That is something you do not usually see and it would be absolutely fascinating to hear what is being said in this moment.

This has to be an especially frustrating time for Lundqvist.

He has been the foundation of the Rangers organization for more than a decade and has at times been one of the biggest reasons the team has been competitive, consistently masking whatever flaws the Rangers’ roster may have had in any given season (in recent years, it’s been the defense).

He has been one of the best goalies in the world and is still searching for his first Stanley Cup. Given that he turns 36 in less than two months he has to know the time to get one is running out, and it seems the team around him isn’t quite up to the task of helping to get him there this season.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Can Rangers break out of funk after bye week?

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A couple months of competitive play cooled the once-hot seat of New York Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault considerably, but there was plenty of grumbling going into the team’s bye week (which began after Sunday’s loss to Vegas).

If there’s one thing Rangers fans and media could see eye-to-eye on, it was that the team’s been struggling lately, particularly when it comes to scoring. Blueshirt Banter captured some of this frustration while calling for GM Jeff Gorton to “stop the madness.”

The Rangers haven’t won a game in regulation since 12/19 when they beat the Ducks 4-1. In that span they’ve needed overtime or the shootout to beat the objectively bad Sabres and Coyotes, lost to the mediocre Red Wings, got totally dominated by Chicago in an embarrassing loss, and got dominated again by Vegas on Sunday. The only reason the (scores) have been as close as they have been is because of the Henrik Lundqvist and Ondrej Pavelec duo standing on their heads.

Indeed, it’s true that Lundqvist has played his typically vital role in the Rangers turning things around, even at his advanced age.

To some degree, there’s a “Groundhog Day” element to all of this: Lundqvist standing on his head to mixed-yet-arguably-inoffensive results, goals being tough to come by, and people calling for Vigneault’s ouster thanks to some head-scratching lineup decisions.

Heading into the break, fans were especially frustrated with the continued yo-yo-ing of Pavel Buchnevich.

The disdain bubbled up enough that the New York Post’s Brett Cyrgalis called for Rangers fans not to “lose their composure” over the scratch.

Plenty of hand-wringing takes place regarding lineup choices, but it all brings up an uncomfortable question: are the Rangers truly equipped to handle this problem? Is this something that’s a matter of will, or is there simply not enough skill on this roster?

Just today, the Rangers announced that Chris Kreider underwent “rib resection surgery” on Sunday and will be evaluated again in six weeks. (Click here for a brain-full on what that procedure entails, if you enjoy going deep on medical jargon.)

There are plenty of Rangers fans who will always want more from Kreider, fairly or not, but he’s been a steady 20-goal scorer as is. With Derek Stepan in Arizona, Mats Zuccarello dealing with some injuries, and Rick Nash experiencing the sort of lousy puck luck he usually only suffers from during the postseason, it’s less and less surprising that the Rangers’ options boil down to “hoping Lundqvist will save the day.”

All of that makes scratching Buchnevich feel more egregious, although perhaps that snub and some rest might light a fire under the young scorer (and the rest of the Rangers’ offense)?

Such a thought might be excessively optimistic, although give the Vigneault-era Rangers this much: they seem to do their best work once people give up on them.

Considering how road-heavy the rest of their schedule looks, they shouldn’t struggle to find odds that they must defy.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Rangers win backup goalie duel against Capitals

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Look on the bright side, Washington Capitals fans: usually you end up without any standings points when your team gets shut out for two straight games.

The Capitals grabbed a “charity point” (it seems harsh to call it a “loser point” here) in a 1-0 shootout loss to the New York Rangers on Wednesday, as the Blueshirts kept their recent roll going at Madison Square Garden.

It ended up being a duel of backup goalies, as both Ondrej Pavelec (30 saves) and Philipp Grubauer (37 saves) both maintained shutouts through regulation and overtime. The Rangers ended up getting the better of Grubauer in the shootout, so they won.

(Pavelec has been on quite the run himself, lately.)

There were plenty of close calls, with John Carlson maybe losing the most sleep tonight:

Ouch.

The holiday break didn’t reignite the Capitals’ scoring ways, as they were also blanked by the Vegas Golden Knights as well on Dec. 23. They’ve lost three straight games, although two of those losses came beyond regulation. Washington is grinding out enough points to stay in the picture, yet they must feel frustrated.

The Rangers are getting it done, too, with a 4-1-1 mark in their last six games. Grabbing this victory while also giving Henrik Lundqvist some rare rest has to be a very nice plus going forward.

(Note: Chris Kreider left the game somewhat mysteriously with an upper-body injury. More might be known tomorrow.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

WATCH LIVE: Capitals – Rangers on Wednesday Night Rivalry

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WATCH LIVE 8 PM ET

PROJECTED LINES

New York Rangers

Forwards
Rick NashMika ZibanejadMats Zuccarello
Michael GrabnerKevin HayesJ.T. Miller
Chris KreiderDavid DesharnaisJimmy Vesey
Paul CareyBoo NievesPavel Buchnevich

Defense
Ryan McDonaghNick Holden
Brendan SmithKevin Shattenkirk
Brady SkjeiMarc Staal

Starting Goalie: Ondrej Pavelec

[NHL on NBCSN Wednesday Night Rivalry: Rangers host Capitals]

Washington Capitals

Forwards
Alex OvechkinNicklas BackstromTom Wilson
Jakub VranaEvgeny KuznetsovT.J. Oshie
Andre BurakovskyLars EllerBrett Connolly
Devante Smith-PellyJay BeagleAlex Chiasson

Defense
Christian Djoss – John Carlson
Dmitri Orlov – Matt Niskanen
Brooks OrpikMadison Bowey

Starting Goalie: Philipp Grubauer