The Detroit Red Wings face the New York Rangers this evening (7:30 PM EST start on FSD/MSG/NHL Network U.S./97.1 FM), and this is going to be a weird one.
The Rangers are going to retire Jean Ratelle’s #19 (the ceremony starts at 6 PM EST, so we’ll see whether the game starts on time) on Sunday night…
But the 27-30-and-5 Rangers, who sit one point behind the Red Wings in the Eastern Conference standings, are “officially rebuilding.” They’ve traded Michal Grabner, they won’t play Rick Nash, they won’t play Ryan McDonagh (who also happens to be injured), and who knows who else might sit.
It’s assumed that the Red Wings–who brought Mike Green along–will start Jimmy Howard opposite Henrik Lundqvist, but the Wings aren’t going to hold a morning skate as they’re playing back-to-back, having defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 3-1 on Saturday.
The Rangers welcomed Chris Kreider back from a blood clot, but the New York Post’s Brett Cyrgalis summarized the state of the Rangers thusly:
Captain Ryan McDonagh has been out since Feb. 9 with his unspecified upper-body injury, with no practical reason for him to push to get back while he is being strongly considered in trade talks. Rick Nash has sat out two straight strictly as a precaution, while arguably the best rental winger on the market awaits what seems like an inevitable trade. Mats Zuccarello continues to play while he is also considered, and he admirably answers all the questions in the losing postgame locker rooms with honesty and candor.
Even Lundqvist sat for two straight while he tries to rediscover his own own game following 12 goals against in 127:25 minutes of playing time. Rookie goalie Alexandar Georgiev got both games of this recent back-to-back, and showed admirably — even if the Rangers’ No. 1 goalie prospect remains Igor Shestyorkin, headed back to his KHL contract after going along for the ride and not playing a game with the Olympic Athletes from Russia in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
The Rangers were hoping this season was going to be a big step forward for their younger core players like J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes and Brady Skjei. But instead, they are no different from the rest of the squad that has somehow fell sort of their own modest preseason expectations.
“I think it’s just an opportunity for us young guys to step up,” Skjei told The Post on Friday night. “Our captain being out is definitely tough, then a few other guys. So for this young group of guys, we have to step up and take on that leadership role and help out these young guys, play the best we can. We can do a better job of that, for sure.”
The team had a day off Saturday to breathe before a glimmer of happiness comes when Jean Ratelle’s No. 19 is finally lifted to the Garden rafters before Sunday night’s game against the Red Wings. And [GM Jeff] Gorton will continue to burn up the battery on his phone as he continues to offer the sacrifice of this season to the hockey gods for the hope of the franchise having a brighter future.
“I think everyone is on the table,” Gorton told MSG Network on Friday. “When you’re doing what we’re doing, it takes a lot of work and a lot of effort. And we’re going to need to bring in a lot of young players and guys that can play in the game today. And we have to look at our best players and our best assets. Unfortunately, that might hit home a little bit with some guys that have been here and had some success.”
What do the Rangers think of themselves? NewYorkRangers.com’s Matt Calamia found the group to be particularly gloomy after Friday’s loss:
The Rangers’ struggles continued on Friday with a 4-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild at Madison Square Garden.
Mikael Granlund and Eric Staal each scored twice to hand the Rangers their sixth straight regulation loss.
“We’re not a good enough team right now,” said Mats Zuccarello. “The other teams we’re playing against are better. We work hard, but it’s as easy as that.”
Rick Nash did not play for the second straight game as a precaution leading up to Monday’s trade deadline, while the departure of Michael Grabner to New Jersey Thursday night left the Blueshirts without their top goal scorer.
Those losses, coupled with Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Shattenkirk and others have led the Rangers to rely on young players. But while those are factors for the team’s struggles over the past six weeks, those are not the only factors.
“It’s a lot of stuff,” Zuccarello said. “People aren’t playing up to their standards. We have a lot of new players. It’s going to take some time for them to get into the NHL speed and pace and play. It’s normal. We compete, but we’re not that good right now. It’s easy.”
The coach’s comments sounded hauntingly familiar:
The loss was the team’s 10th in its last 12 games. [Alain] Vigneault, though, said the goal for him and his players is to play hard and play to win.
“We’re in a result oriented business. Everybody here wants to win,” he said. “We came out tonight and guys were ready, in my mind anyway. We worked hard and we had some good time, but we just weren’t able to make the plays that we needed to make to get something out of it. Our preparation was there. We just have to stick with it.”
Vigneault continued while speaking with the Associated Press…
The Rangers lost for the sixth straight time in regulation. New York is 6-17-0 since beating Buffalo in the Winter Classic on Jan. 1.
“In my mind, we worked hard. We just weren’t able to make the plays that we needed to make to get something out of that,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said.
Granlund opened the scoring for Minnesota at 16:06 of the first period after Staal intercepted a terrible breakout pass attempt by Rangers defenseman Anthony DeAngelo. Staal passed to Granlund, who easily put the puck past rookie netminder Alexandar Georgiev.
Georgiev played his second NHL game after making his debut Thursday night in a 3-1 loss at Montreal.
Staal made it 2-0 at 18:43. The goal was originally credited to Granlund but was changed to Staal late in the third period.
The Rangers narrowed the deficit to 2-1 when Jesper Fast scored his ninth of the season at 2:41 of the second.
Staal made it 3-1 for the visitors 52 seconds into the third period with a power-play goal — his team-leading 29th — of the season. Defenseman Ryan Suter and Granlund had assists.
And NHL.com’s Dan Rosen’s recap will pick up the narrative from there:
Granlund scored off a 2-on-1 rush with Zucker at 9:22 to make it 4-1.
It was Granlund’s second four-point game in the NHL. He had four points against the Vancouver Canucks on Feb. 4, 2017. It was Staal’s 13th NHL game with at least four points, but first with the Wild.
“You always try and elevate whoever you’re playing with to help the team get success,” Staal said. “[Granlund] is a great offensive player. Sometimes when you’re close but you’re pressing it can be time for a different change or look. It looked like once he got that first one he was really starting to feel it. They were fun guys to play with.”
Rangers forward Chris Kreider returned to the lineup for the first time since Dec. 27. He missed 24 games because of a blood clot in his arm that required rib resection surgery. Kreider had two shots on goal and four hits in 15:59.
Need to know: Rangers forward Rick Nash was scratched for the second straight game in expectation of him being traded before the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline on Monday at 3 p.m. ET. … Vigneault said Lundqvist didn’t play because goalie coach Benoit Allaire wanted to have some extra practice time with him before he plays again.
Here is the Rangers-Wild game’s highlight clip for your persual…