The postseason doesn’t begin for another three months, but in the knock-down, drag-out MetroMania division in which the Rangers occupy a wild-card spot as they begin the second half Saturday against the Islanders, the relentless grind will have a playoff feel.
So says Alain Vigneault, who backed his core players Friday after the Blueshirts (22-15-5) had slipped up in the eight games before their bye week.
“I know what those guys are made of,” Vigneault said. “I think everybody understands everybody’s in playoff hockey right now. That’s just the way it is. So I feel good about where we are and what we’ve got ahead of us here.”
Alain Vigneault’s Rangers are preparing for a difficult second half as they have sights on a playoff spot.
(Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Being in the position of needing points on a daily basis can be mentally taxing. Perhaps in recent weeks there has been somewhat of a snowball effect when things haven’t gone right, as illuminated in comments by Kevin Shattenkirk.
“As a team, we need to just be a little more even-keeled with everything, with our emotions, with the product that we’re putting out on the ice,” he said after the team returned for practice Friday. “It can’t be one great game and one bad game. When things get tough, we can’t show that. We need to just steady that line a little bit and not have it be such a wave.”
The Rangers are 3-3-2 in their last eight games and are without a regulation win during that stretch. “In order for us to make a serious run here, we’ve got to become consistent in our habits and our work ethic,” Ryan McDonagh said.
Their second-half run might begin without Kevin Hayes, who practiced Friday after playing just 3:01 Sunday after a hit by Nate Schmidt caused a lower-body injury. Vigneault said it’s “maybe less than” a 50-50 chance Hayes plays Saturday. The Rangers recalled Vinni Lettieri from Hartford after sending him down for four days and he’s set to play Saturday. Paul Carey could be scratched if Hayes dresses while Pavel Buchnevich is set to return after being scratched Sunday.
Brendan Smith, however, is set to be scratched for the second straight game and 10th time this season as Vigneault felt Steven Kampfer was effective with Marc Staal in Sunday’s loss to Vegas.
“I think for this first half, I would say it hasn’t been what we expected,” Vigneault said of Smith, who signed a four-year, $ 17.4 million deal in late June. “It hasn’t been the same player we saw last year.”
Ryan McDonagh knows the Rangers must become more consistent.
(Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)
Henrik Lundqvist keeps tabs on the standings, and knows precisely where the Rangers are as they begin their second half against Islanders, who bring up the rear in the division but are only three points behind the Blueshirts.
“It adds more pressure,” Lundqvist said. “I enjoy that race.”
It’s a reminder of just how important every game is and how much work is ahead in the chase for the playoffs, which for the Rangers, has already begun.