Stuck in a proverbial free fall with just nine games left to play, the Rangers — who haven’t competed since Tuesday night — will be looking for their first win in five games when they take on the Maple Leafs in Toronto tonight for a 7 PM puck drop.
All but mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, while it’s clear the club stands to gain more from from losing as many of these final contests as possible, there’s no discounting the toll that these extended losing streaks are taking on the team’s collective psyche.
According to Tankathon.com, the Rangers currently have a 23.3% shot at picking in the top-three and a 7.5% chance at the first-overall pick this June. Those odds could rise a dash more if the team continues this free fall, but these marginal improvements are also negatively affecting even their most battle-tested veterans, like Henrik Lundqvist.
”We all knew we were going to have our ups and downs and that it would be a challenge for all of us to manage our emotions,” Henrik Lundqvist told reporters from the New York Post after Thursday’s practice. “But we came out of the gates well and there were some very hopeful signs the first couple of months. Then, even though we were still playing well, we were not getting rewarded. And when the losses started coming, it affected the team and it affected me.”
The team is a miserable 1-6-3 in their last 10, with a minus-40 goal differential on the year, and have just three wins to their name over their last 15 games.
”I’m very intense and very hard on myself when we don’t win. That’s who I am. That’s not changing,” Lundqvist went on to say.
”But playing on a team that loses more, I definitely have to work on how to have the right approach mentally so that I can play better. I’m working on how to deal with this experience, because in order to play at a top level, you have to know you’re in the right place mentally. It’s not so much on the ice, it’s off the ice between games.”
Though the Rangers have played in a handful of highly-competitive games against teams near the top of the league in recent weeks, the idea of a resurgence against the Maple Leafs does appear — at least on paper — to be something of a pipe dream.
Toronto lays claim to three players operating at better than point-per-game rates this season — Mitch Marner (1.16), Auston Matthews (1.13), and John Tavares (1.09) — and own the third-highest goals per game team (3.55) in the NHL this season. Curtailing such a potent offensive team will be no easy feat.
An injured blue line and weak goaltending, however, can give New York an edge. Especially if Fredrik Andersen — who has surrendered 16 goals in his last four games — is tapped to start.
The Rangers are expected to be without Jesper Fast, who could be shut down for the remainder of the season to deal with a shoulder injury he has played through for the last three months.
”We’re leaning in that direction,” said head coach David Quinn after Thursday’s practice. “We don’t want to put anyone in harm’s way.”
The team could also be without veterans Chris Kreider and Marc Staal, both of whom missed practice with lower-body injuries.
Please use this as your open thread for tonight’s game.