New York Rangers officially start second half of the season with playoff spot still in reach

When the NHL announced a 56 game schedule due to the COVID Pandemic, that was one strike against a very young Rangers team. Once again, new players were being introduced into the lineup like Alexis Lafreni√®re and K’Andre Miller as veterans were jettisoned like Jesper Fast and Marc Staal. The Blueshirts made the decision to part ways with legendary goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and thus trusting two 25 year-old goalies with shouldering the responsibilities in net.

If that wasn’t tough enough, realignment and scheduling had them facing the likes of the Bruins, Penguins, Islanders, Flyers, and tonight’s opponent the Capitals 8 times. You can understand why so many people wrote them off early.

New York Rangers at .500 entering the second half of the season

The Rangers start the second half of the season with game 29 against the Caps. They are 12-12-4 and eight points out of 4th place which is the last playoff spot, currently held by the Bruins. That’s a pretty far cry from considering them a playoff contender, but I believe they are.

What the record doesn’t show are the circumstances to why the Rangers find themselves at only .500 at the midway point. Remember the devil is in the details and the Rangers have had a devil of time this season. Here’s what their record doesn’t show you:

  • Mika Zibanejad missing camp after contracting COVID-19
  • Zibanejad’s subsequent 27 game slump that may have ended with a 6 point game vs Philly
  • Tony DeAngelo meltdown and subsequent waivers
  • Filip Chytil injury costs him almost 6 weeks
  • Inconsistent goaltending from both Alexandar Georgiev and Igor Shesterkin
  • Igor Shesterkin’s injury after heating up (he’s now missed 7 games and counting)
  • Kaapo Kakko hitting the COVID list twice
  • K’Andre Miller, Adam Fox, Pavel Buchnevich, and Phil DiGiuseepe all spending time on the COVID list
  • Jacob Trouba breaking his thumb
  • Artemi Panarin missing almost half the games played (2 to injury, and 9 to a smear campaign)
  • And now the entire Rangers coaching staff unavailable due to COVID protocols for at least 3 games

Do you want to tell me now that you aren’t the least bit impressed with the Rangers at .500 now?

The playoff hunt starts tonight

new york rangers
Jan 14, 2021; New York, NY, USA; New York Rangers players huddle around the center ice logo as they prepare for the home opener against the New York Islanders at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Bennett/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports

I’m not here to sell you a fantasy. The Rangers will have a real hard time trying to secure the 4th and final playoff spot. That would likely be a date with the Islanders or Capitals in the first round. Their 28 game second half schedule looks like this the rest of the way:

  • 6 games left vs Washington (2-0)
  • 5 games left vs NYI (1-2)
  • 5 games left vs Buffalo (2-1)
  • 4 games left vs Philadelphia (2-1-1)
  • 4 games left vs NJ (2-2)
  • 2 games left vs Pittsburgh (1-3)
  • 2 games left vs Boston (2-3-1)

The Rangers are fortunate they only have 2 games left against the Penguins and Bruins whom they have a losing record against. They play the Capitals very well and maybe can split the six games remaining. The blessing will be 5 games against the Sabres who will likely be even worse off for the two games remaining after the April 12 deadline. The curse will be 5 games against the Islanders that the Blueshirts need to pick up some points in.

What it will all boil down to are the 8 games left against the Flyers and Devils. The Rangers need to win a majority of those games, and will still need help. The Bruins play the Sabres 7 more times, and the Penguins play them and the Devils 13 more times to close out their seasons. One of those teams will fall to fourth, but catching them will be difficult unless at least one of them hits a serious slump.

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