The Rangers, coming off a taxing four games on the road, are riding a season-high 10-game point streak with 11 days until the trade deadline and seven weeks until the start of the playoffs.
It’s hard to imagine this trip going any better than it did. The Blueshirts captured seven of a possible eight points, falling short only in the second night of a back-to-back in the trip’s final game. They outscored opponents 19-13. There were three come-from-behind victories, if you include going down 1-0 against the Canucks. Plus, the multi-goal rally to secure a point against the Flames in a 3-2 overtime loss Saturday night.
The belief in the Rangers locker room has seemingly peaked at a critical point in the season. They are just two points behind the Devils and one point behind the Maple Leafs. Sitting in third in the Metropolitan Division, as well as in fifth in an Eastern Conference that’s only getting more competitive by the day as trades unfold, the Rangers have put themselves in an optimal position after a slower-than-expected start.
“When we are down — I mean, I’m pretty sure our confidence is pretty high right now — and anytime you have that confidence, it goes a long way to believe in ourselves to come back from a two-, three-goal deficit,” Vincent Trocheck said Saturday night. “I think that’s the difference between our team now and our team at the beginning of the year. We feel like it was the complete opposite at the beginning of the year. We’d go up one or two goals and our confidence wasn’t there and stood on our heels a little bit and [we were] concerned about teams coming back.
“Now, we go down one or two, we have that confidence that we’re going to come back.”
While the results are primarily swinging in the Rangers’ favor lately, their overall team game is still a work in process. This is a positive — especially since the wins are still piling up. The Rangers don’t want to reach the pinnacle of their play just yet, not until they’re closer to the postseason.
There’s still plenty of time to work out the kinks, such as the slow starts they’ve struggled with lately, in addition to further developing the chemistry with recently acquired forward Vladimir Tarasenko.
“We should start better,” Tarasenko said after the OT loss to the Flames. “This was the second game in a row [we fell behind], and we understand this. It’s nice to win the games when you’re coming back, but you should play better from the start. It’s been a tough stretch — a lot of back-to-backs and everything — but everybody knows we can play better. I don’t think everybody is satisfied with the result.”
Tarasenko and defenseman Niko Mikkola, who both arrived via trade from the Blues 11 days ago, had time to get better acquainted with their new teammates on the trip. Mikkola, despite taking a few too many penalties, has been a physical addition to the back end, while Tarasenko has given the Rangers more flexibility to the top-six. He’s seen time on both the first and second lines.
The 31-year-old Tarasenko, who recorded his second goal as a Ranger on Saturday night, also sounds like a man who is all in.
“Scoring is nice,” he said. “But winning is better.”
The experimental period with the line combinations is ongoing with the adding of Tarasenko and bringing back Tyler Motte on Sunday. After lining the forwards up the same way in three of the four road games, head coach Gerard Gallant switched it up in the second period Saturday night. We will see a new alignment Monday against the Jets.
Kaapo Kakko was bumped up to the right wing of the first line next to Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad, while Tarasenko slotted next to Trocheck and Artemi Panarin. The third line featured Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil and Barclay Goodrow, who rotated with Jimmy Vesey toward the end of the game when Gallant limited the usage of his fourth line. Otherwise, Vesey briefly skated on the left of Jake Leschyshyn and Julien Gauthier, who is no longer with the Rangers after getting traded to Ottawa as part of the deal that brought Motte back. Motte will replace him on the fourth unit.
“Overall, it was an excellent trip for us,” Gallant said. “It would have been nice to finish it up, but we’ll take the one point.”