With three games left until the eight-day All-Star break, which began Monday night against the Panthers at the Garden, the Rangers were playing as if they were somewhere between their slow start and their convincing turnaround.
The Blueshirts are a respectable 6-3-2 since the offseason, amassing 14 points while remaining third in the Metropolitan Division standings. Barely trailing opponents 29-27 during that period, the Rangers may have been flat, but they certainly identified areas that needed improvement.
Things could be worse, the Rangers know, but they could also be better.
In their previous four games, the Rangers had only scored two goals on five-for-five. Their highest power play unit is 1 for 22 in their last seven matches. It would be appropriate to say the offense is the foul, but the Rangers somehow managed to make it work despite their struggles to place the puck in the back of the net.
The Rangers have one of the toughest second half schedules in the league. Of the 36 remaining regular season games, the Rangers will face only four teams with percentages under . 500 points. They play the Canucks and Blue Jackets twice, as well as a final game with the Senators and Canadiens.
“I think that’s a good thing for us,” Ryan Lindgren told The Post about playing in a tight division. “It makes us not remove any games.”
Whether the team was out of sync or clicking on all cylinders, daily line changes have been a constant for the Rangers all season. They’ll take to the ice Monday in another new format as Gerard Gallant continues to mark his “perfect” lines – and the latest alignment includes the trademark kids line.
“I think the kids play really well together, and I think they’re comfortable together,” the head coach said when asked if he feels he can always fall back into the line-up of Alexis Lafrenière, Philippe Chitel and Capo Kaku. “Sometimes, for me, they go over the puck too much. They have to get confidence shooting the puck. Capo’s got a great shot, LaVey can shoot the puck, and Phil is a skilled player. Sometimes, when they’re playing on different lines and they try to get too fancy or Trying to get Chris Kreider’s puck [Mika] Zibanejad puck, when they are in firing zones.
“We tell them every day, every day in training, ‘You have good shots, you have confidence in your game, shoot the puck. We need more people who hit the puck and you guys are good scorers. That’s what I did in juniors, and that’s what I did in college, wherever I played. We want them to shoot and be more confident.
“I love seeing the kids when they play well together. We’ve changed lines a lot, you know, this year and more than we’ve liked at times, but I think it’s a good combination. I hope they play well together and I hope I can keep my lines together.”
Between the baby line and the Super Line reunion of Artemy Panarin, Mika Zibanijad, and Chris Kreider, it’s clear that Gallant is trying to spice up the Rangers offense. He even left it to Panarin and Kreider, both naturally left-handers, to decide who would skate on which wing.
Based on practice, it looked like Kreider would have lined up on the other side on the right, while Panarin would have stayed on the left. Those three only clocked 21:58 together, according to Natural Stat Trick, but they outscored opponents 2-0 and the offense could use a shake.