The black-and-gold object in the Rangers’ rear view mirror is closer than it appears.
There is a very real possibility that after Thursday night’s match with Pittsburgh the Rangers could be tied for the top spot in the Atlantic Division — and Eastern Conference.
The Rangers entered Sunday night’s match against the Islanders knowing that Pittsburgh cut their division and conference lead to two points following the Penguins’ 5-2 win over Boston. The Penguins have won nine in a row, and could be bolstered by the return of Sidney Crosby Thursday night.
It is a macro view that Rangers coach John Tortorella is decidedly disinterested in examining.
“All that other stuff, where we are in the standings, who’s behind us, who’s ahead of us, we just try to get ready each and every day,” Tortorella said in his pre-game press conference.
Coinciding with Pittsburgh’s winning streak has been the Rangers’ stretch of inconsistency. The Rangers are just 5-5-2 dating back to the 4-2 Garden loss to the Blackhawks on Feb. 16.
“We haven’t been [a top team during Tortorella’s tenure], but it’s not changing what we’re trying to do,” Tortorella said. “We try to take each particular day and try to play the game that we think we need to play.”
Due to injuries to Ryan Callahan and Michael Del Zotto, Mats Zuccarello was called up from AHL Connecticut for the game.
Zuccarello, who did not record a point in the first three games of this season before being shipped to the Whale, totaled 23 points (six goals and 17 assists) in 42 games with the Rangers in 2010-11. The 5-foot-7, 174-pound right wing averaged nearly a point per game (36 in 37 games) in Connecticut.
Tortorella said he envisioned Zuccarello receiving time on the power play.
“He’s been playing decent down there,” Tortorella said. “No matter what he’s doing down there, I still have to make a judgment of what he’s doing with us as he plays the game.”
Rank and file
The March 19 edition of The Hockey News named Henrik Lundqvist (No. 13), Brad Richards (No. 28) and Marian Gaborik (No. 31) as three of the NHL’s Top 50 players. No Islanders made the list.
THN’s Future Watch edition ranked the Islanders’ system as No. 8 in the league, while the Rangers were No. 13 overall. Interestingly, the Rangers had three players — defenseman Tim Erixon (No. 17), left wing Chris Kreider (No. 23) and center J.T. Miller (No. 29) — listed among the News’ Top 50 prospects. Center Ryan Strome (No. 9) and defenseman Calvin de Haan (No. 49) made the cut for the Islanders.
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.