Marek Malik

Painting A Picture

There’s just eight days until the NHL trading deadline, and it’s time for the Rangers to decide whether they’re a playoff caliber team or just pretenders.  With a home and home series against the rival New Jersey Devils and a game against the always difficult Columbus Blue Jackets, New York will have it’s work cut out for them, simply to maintain the pace, let alone make ground on the teams they’re chasing.  The task is made just that much more difficult when you factor in the loss of Brendan Shanahan and Marek Malik this weekend, not to mention the inability to find a reliable backup netminder with the season on the line.

As it stands today, the Rangers are three points out of a playoff spot, but just six points out of sixth place in the East.  If you figure that the Rangers are the last truly viable team in the East (and that assumption excludes Boston which is a further five points behind the Rangers, but have two more games in hand), then that gives you six teams battling for the final three spots in the East.  Of those six, there are two teams that are clearly playing well at the moment, the Maple Leafs are 7-1-2 in their last 10, and the Islanders are 6-2-2 in their last 10.  The Rangers too are arguably on the cusp of joining that group with a 5-4-1 record over the same period.  At the other end of the spectrum are the Thrashers (2-7-1), Canadiens (2-7-1) and Hurricanes (4-5-1).

We’ll now take a look at each of the five other teams that the Rangers are playing against, and see how they might play out.

Atlanta Thrashers – 6th
Record: 30-22-9 – 69 points
Games Remaining: 
Games vs NYR: 
1 (in Atlanta – March 16th)
Season Series: Tied 1-1-1
Key Injuries: Steve Rucchin (DTD), Brad Larsen (DTD), JP Vigier (IR)

The Thrashers have been in a free fall of late, going 7-11-3 since January 1st, and a 1-6-1 in the month of February.  The key issue has been defense, with the team allowing 34 goals in their last 8 games, for an average of 4.25 goals against.  Once considered uncatchable, the Thrashers are now very much a team that the Rangers could be looking to surpass to get into the playoffs.  It is unlikely that they’ll continue to struggle at the level they are currently, but New York does have two games in hand, and has an important game against the team next month.

Atlanta has just one game left against the Western Conference (Sharks) and must play the 1st-5th ranked teams just 5 times for the remainder of the season.  They have another 7 games against teams in the positions 12th-15th in the east and 8 against the teams ranked 6-11.  It should be noted, that two of the games against the top five teams in the East are against the Tampa Bay Lightning, which they are tied with in the standings, but trail both in wins (33 vs. 30) and games remaining (22 vs. 21).

Carolina Hurricanes – 7th
Record: 30-24-7 – 67 points
Games Remaining: 
Games vs NYR: 
1 (in NY – March 11th)
Season Series: NYR leads 2-1-0
Key Injuries: Cory Stillman (IR)

Carolina is another team that has sputtered a little of late.  Not quite as much as the Canadiens and Thrashers, but their record of 9-8-3 in the new year is hardly earth shattering.  The Rangers recently picked up a strong win down in Raleigh and have to figure they have a good chance at winning the series after performances of 4-0, 4-1 and a 1-2 loss down in Raleigh to open up the four game series.  The Hurricanes also have several injuries to key personnel to deal with currently, and that might buy the Rangers some more time to make up ground.In the 21 remaining games on the season, the Hurricanes will face off against the Western Conference once (Sharks), the top five teams in the East 7 times, the bottom four teams 7 times, and other teams that they are competing with (6th-11th) just six times.

Toronto Maple Leafs – 8th
Record: 29-22-8 – 66 points
Games Remaining: 
Games vs NYR: 
1 (in NY – April 1st)
Season Series: TOR leads 2-1-0
Key Injuries: Kris Newbury (DTD), Michael Peca (IR), Darcy Tucker (IR), Kyle Wellwood (IR)

It’s fair to say that the Maple Leafs are one of the hottest teams in the East this calendar year with a record of 12-5-2 since January 1st.  They’ve gotten at least a point in 8 of their last 9 games and have given up more than two goals, just three times in their last ten games.  The Rangers had an opportunity earlier this month to make some ground up on Toronto, but came away with a 2-1 loss on home ice.  By the time these two clubs meet again it’ll be hard to say whether both teams will still be in the race, so the Maple Leafs may be one of the clubs that the Rangers will need help with.

Toronto’s schedule appears a little more difficult than that of the Hurricanes and Thrashers, largely as a result of playing in the Northeast division.  They have no remaining games against the Western Conference, but will face the 1st through 5th placed teams 10 times, the 6th-11th teams 8 times, and the bottom four just 5 times, with two of those games coming before the trading deadline.

New York Islanders – 9th
Record: 29-23-8 – 66 points
Games Remaining: 
Games vs NYR: 
4 (in NY – March 5th, on Long Island – March 8th, March 25th and April 3rd)
Season Series: NYI leads 4-0-0
Key Injuries: Sean Bates (DTD), Bruno Gervais (DTD), Alexei Yashin (DTD), Joel Bouchard (IR), Radek Matinek (IR)

Written off by many in the latter part of the first half of the season, the Islanders have stuck around to compete for a playoff spot.  After fumbling through a 4-8-1 record in January, the Islanders have turned their season around in February going 6-2-2, and picking up at least a point in 10 of their last 12 games.  For the Rangers, the key will be the final four games in the season series, one which has to this point been completed one-sided in the Islanders favor.  With a potential eight point turnaround on offer, it quickly turns into a four point gain with a 3-1 record in the remaining games…or worse.  There’s also the possibility of the extra point for OT and SO losses, which is something the Rangers can’t really afford to give up to their division rivals.

The games against the teams ranked 6th-11th will be key for the Islanders, who also have to play Toronto (twice) and Montreal (twice) to go with the four games against the Rangers.  They also have 7 games against the top five ranked teams (all in the last 13 games of the year), 1 game against the Western Conference (Blues), and 6 against the four lowest ranked teams.

Montreal Canadiens – 10th
Record: 30-25-6 – 66 points
Games Remaining: 
Games vs NYR: 
3 (in NY – February 27th and April 5th, in Montreal – March 17th)
Season Series: NYR leads 1-0-0
Key Injuries: Christobal Huet (DTD), Alex Kovalev (DTD), Craig Rivet (IR)

Like the Thrashers, the Canadiens have struggled since New Year’s Day, going 7-14-1 since a January 2nd win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, and being outscored by a total of 77 to 49 in the process.  The special teams have struggled in the last month (PP 6 for 42 and PK 39 for 55) and they’ve suffered injuries to Alexei Kovalev and goaltender Christobal Huet in the last couple of weeks.  Kovalev is back in a week or so, but Montreal is definitely in a funk.

The Canadiens have two remaining games against the Western Conference (Blues and Predators) and have just 4 games against the 1st through 5th ranked teams in the East.  Their biggest test will be the 9 remaining games against the 6th-11th ranked teams, including three against the Rangers, while their 6 games against the lowest ranked Eastern teams will be ones they have to win.

New York Rangers – 11th
Record: 29-25-5 – 63 points
Games Remaining: 
Key Injuries:
 Marek Malik (DTD), Brendan Shanahan (IR), Kevin Weekes (IR), Sandis Ozolinsh (IR)

For their part, the Rangers key match-ups are also against the teams they’re fighting for a playoff spot with.  They can erode the points deficit with teams such as the Canadiens and Islanders, simply by winning those games, and can pull two points closer to each of Carolina, Atlanta and Toronto by winning the last remaining match-ups between the teams.  The two remaining games against the Western Conference (Blue Jackets and Blues) figure to be must wins, and do the four against Boston and Philadelphia.

It should be noted that the Rangers are also at somewhat of a disadvantage going into the trade deadline.  They have one fewer game than most of the other teams in the race and could appear to be an additional two points behind, but with a game in hand.  They also have to play the New Jersey Devils (as previous mentioned) in two of those games.

Ultimately the Rangers’ fate is in their own hands, though they will likely need some help from other teams in the East in order to make the playoffs this season.

Remaining schedule:


Strength of Remaining Schedule (derived from points per game of opposition teams):

New York Islanders: 
Atlanta Thrashers: 
Carolina Hurricanes: 
New York Rangers: 
Montreal Canadiens: 
Toronto Maple Leafs: 

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