Rangers can give new lineup true test with short break

The Rangers have two much-needed days off, Sunday and Monday, followed by two desperately needed days of practice on Tuesday and Wednesday.

After that, they will finally be in a position to be evaluated fairly when they take the ice Thursday night against the Canadiens with a full lineup for the first time since essentially the Feb. 25 loss in Washington. The outside noise from the trade deadline has come and gone. Patrick Kane technically has been on the books for six days. The Rangers can officially get back to their regularly scheduled program.

Four games of skating shorthanded — or benching players for roster-management reasons — have not been kind to the Rangers, who went 1-2-1 against the Kings, Flyers, Senators and Bruins. The fact is, however, the Rangers are simply underperforming lately.

They have lost six of their last eight games, and slipped to just a seven-point cushion on the wild-card Islanders in the Metropolitan Division standings. It hasn’t all been negative. The club is nowhere near any doom or gloom. There is still a confidence exuding from the locker room that is indicating team perseverance.

New York Rangers' Alexis Lafrenière (13) celebrates his goal with Vladimir Tarasenko (91) during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Boston Bruins, Saturday, March 4, 2023, in Boston.
Despite underperforming, the Rangers will be in a position to be at full strength after a short hiatus.
AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

The Rangers just need to tighten up defensively, integrate the new faces into their five-on-five game and power play and start working toward unlocking the lineup’s full potential to ensure they achieve optimal seeding in the playoffs. Their recent play hasn’t necessarily been bad, especially considering the circumstances, but it’s not great, either.

“I guess that’s the fine balance that you have to find,” Mika Zibanejad said of taking positives away from the 4-2 loss to the NHL-leading Bruins Saturday afternoon in Boston. “When you look back at games and what you do with them and how you go forward and whatnot. I think we do a lot of good things. The other games that we played against [Boston], the other two games, I don’t think we came up this good against them and kind of pushed them back.

New York Rangers right wing Patrick Kane (88) controls the puck ahead of Boston Bruins defenseman Connor Clifton (75) during the second period at TD Garden.
The addition of Patrick Kane only bolsters the Rangers’ potential.
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

“We didn’t just sit back and watch them play and [that’s not] easy to do, especially here [in Boston]. They’re good at home. Obviously, I feel like they’ve been good everywhere this year, but especially at home. They have a ton of speed, they play very fast and they’re dangerous. But I thought we at times did a really good job pushing back and not just sitting back and waiting for things to happen.

“We did a lot of good things and hopefully that’s something that we can build on and add to. No matter who we play, to play that game, I feel like that’s how we want to play and what we’ve talked about all year. Not happy with the result, try to take some of the good things that we did, obviously get better at the things that we have to.”

New York Rangers' Niko Mikkola (77) defends against Boston Bruins' Brad Marchand (63) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, March 4, 2023, in Boston.
The Rangers haven’t been playing at their best, with a 1-2-1 record in the past four games.
AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

No team is immune to distractions, and there have been plenty around the Rangers for almost a month now. It’s also created even loftier expectations than the organization was already facing at the start of the season. That could result in a longer adjustment period than the Rangers likely desire, but it also could lead to a drop-off in the standings.

The schedule is nearing crunch time and the Rangers need to adapt accordingly with 19 games left in the regular season.

K’Andre Miller will be back Thursday from his three-game suspension and Ryan Lindgren could be nearing a return from his upper-body injury. The Rangers have no doubt missed two of their top defensemen. It is unclear what Tyler Motte’s timeline is with an apparent head injury, but the Rangers will be able to recall a forward to play at full strength going forward.

All pieces will be in place soon enough. The Rangers will have to take it from there.