Sliding Rangers look to turn it around before All-Star break

The Rangers haven’t often lost two games in a row this season, and they’ve only had one three-game skid (back in November), but the last two games were a tough pair of defeats.

The losses to the Blue Jackets and Wild marked just the second time this season the Rangers came away from two straight games without a single point, which is a testament to how strong their first half was. There were a pair of blown 2-0 leads, some rocky stretches of play and as a result, a dip in the standings.

After the Penguins collected a point in a shootout loss to the Red Wings on Friday, Pittsburgh had 61 points and sole possession of first place in the Metropolitan Division and were a point ahead of the Rangers and Hurricanes. The Capitals also picked up two points following a win over the Stars, pulling within three points of the Rangers.

The Hurricanes, who had a win and fives games in hand on the Rangers, had an opportunity to jump atop the division when they hosted the Devils Saturday night.

While the Rangers have put themselves in a comfortable position where the playoffs are concerned, the Metro is arguably the tightest division and a pair of regulation losses are going to be costly. The teams at the top of the division have been neck and neck, but the Rangers have managed to stay right with it.

The Wild's Mats Zuccarello checks the Rangers' Ryan Lindgren into the boards.
The Wild’s Mats Zuccarello checks the Rangers’ Ryan Lindgren into the boards.
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“It’s key in this league to play a full 60 [minutes],” defenseman Ryan Lindgren said after the 3-2 loss to the Wild on Friday. “When you get out to those leads, you’ve got to make sure you’re playing smart and not letting teams get back into it. So that’s definitely something we’ve got to clean up.”

The Rangers are 16 points clear of ninth place in the Eastern Conference and just three points clear of a wild-card spot, currently sitting in fifth in the conference. After such a prolific first half, having to ultimately compete for a wild-card spot wouldn’t be ideal considering the Rangers have been in playoff position for a majority of the season.

With the next two games set to be played at home, beginning with a Sunday afternoon matinee with the Kraken, the Rangers want to head into the All-Star break on a high note. The Rangers will return Feb. 15 against the Bruins, the first of two straight home games. Even though the Rangers are without two forwards, Kaapo Kakko and Filip Chytil, and their No. 1 defenseman, Adam Fox, they should be able to pick up some points against the Kraken and Panthers.

Fox won’t be eligible to return to the lineup until after the All-Star weekend in Las Vegas, and it is still unclear if he will participate. Head coach Gerard Gallant said the Rangers could also be without Kakko (injured reserve) for some time, but Chytil, who has been day-to-day with a lower-body injury, may be able to return in the next few contests.

The Rangers have survived with a depleted lineup before, but Fox’s absence is an entirely different void to fill. If this tough stretch continues until the Rangers’ two-week break in February, it wouldn’t be the end of the world, but it also wouldn’t make things easier.

There are 37 games left in the season. Plenty of time is left. Anything can happen.