Rangers dealing with injuries and brutal March schedule

NHL: New York Islanders at New York Rangers
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Rangers have dealt with adversity all season and in various forms. It started with losing Filip Chytil for the year to an upper-body injury back in November and a season-ending lower-body injury to Blake Wheeler in February.

In the month of March, it appears to be hitting a crescendo.

Aside from a brutal schedule, the Blueshirts are without two key defenseman in captain Jacob Trouba, and Ryan Lindgren. Both players are expected to be out a weeks with lower-body injuries, but the bright side is they are scheduled to return.

Their absence has not helped, especially in Tuesday night’s 4-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets. After the final buzzer sounded, it marked their seventh game in 11 days and their sixth in nine. It’s obvious this is a tired group trying to hold on.

“The second period we slipped with our play,” forward Jimmy Vesey said. “It was unfortunately the difference in the game. Schedule is what it is. We’ll put our head down and get back to work.”

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Rangers dealing with adversity in March

NHL: New York Islanders at New York Rangers
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Despite all the adversity and tight scheduling of games, the Rangers are 5-2-0 during this stretch of hockey that began with a 4-0 win over the St. Louis Blues on March 9th.

Although, when you look at the slate from March 11th through the 19th (a stretch of six games in nine days), you’ll see two sets of back-to-backs with travel. New York is 4-2-0 over this time period and swept both of those sets. When you dive into the two losses, it was one bad period in each contest that cost them points in the standings.

Against the Tampa Bay Lightning on March 14th, just a day after an emotional 1-0 win over the Carolina Hurricanes, the Rangers imploded in the third period. Even though they were up 3-2 early in the final frame, they could not stop an onslaught from the Bolts’ top players and surrendered four unanswered goals.

“A pretty good first half of the game,” coach Peter Laviolette explained. “They’ve got a couple of really dangerous players on their side and they hurt us.”

While that is true, the Rangers looked gassed, and it reared its ugly head again in the middle stanza against the Jets on Tuesday. Late in the period, Chris Kreider committed an egregious turnover, and the usually fast Mika Zibanejad could not catch up to Mark Scheifele, who scored on the breakaway to make it 3-1. That turned out to be the eventual game-winning goal.

“We didn’t get our forecheck going,” Zibanejad explained. “A good team like that is going to take advantage.”

The loss to the Jets was also their first game without Lindgren, who went down on Sunday in the 5-2 win against the New York Islanders. Not only did it thrust trade deadline addition Chad Ruhwedel into the lineup, it sent the d-pairs out of whack with Laviolette juggling in the third period.

Of course, there’s a silver lining in this chaos, and it is the fact that Zac Jones is getting crucial playing time. Not only is he gaining valuable minutes, he’s thriving after being out of the lineup since February 5th.

Since being thrust into action against the Blues on March 9th, Jones has notched two assists with a +2 rating in seven matches. More importantly, he’s been excellent in his own zone reading the play and transitioning into offense for his teammates.

As Trouba gets closer to a return (he was listed out 2-3 weeks back on March 8th), things will start to settle down for the Blueshirts.

“He’s skating on his own,” Laviolette revealed on Tuesday. “Again, we’re not going to rush him. There will be a time, and I don’t have a time frame on it, when you see him return to us.”

The Rangers still have five games remaining in March, with no more back-to-back sets for the remainder of the season. However, their next opponents are the Boston Bruins (3/21) and Florida Panthers (3/23) whom they are battling with for the Presidents’ Trophy before they finally get two days off between games.

It doesn’t get much easier from there with tilts against the hard-working Philadelphia Flyers (3/25) and perennial Cup contending Colorado Avalanche (3/28). Finally, a trap game versus the lowly Arizona Coyotes (3/30) looms to close out March.

In the end, the Rangers need to survive this brutal schedule. When it’s over, they will be truly battle-tested for when the real season begins in late April.

Anthony Scultore is the founder of Forever Blueshirts and has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL... More about Anthony Scultore

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