No matter what one does, it’s always good to have time away from work.
“You know we’ve been playing a lot,” Henrik Lundqvist told Newsday following Saturday night’s 5-4, come-from-behind win over the Blue Jackets in Columbus. “Even though we had a Christmas break, it was a quick break. We’ve been playing more than most teams. Just try to take advantage of it, really get away from the game and relax. We have a big test right away when we get back.”
Indeed, the Rangers enter their NHL-mandated bye week having won two straight. Their 28-13-1 record is good for 57 points, three points behind league-best Columbus. Both the Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh—first and second in the Metropolitan Division—have three games in hand on the the Rangers.
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When the Rangers return, they have date Friday night at the Garden against the precocious Leafs, followed by a Saturday night match in Montreal. As of this writing, Toronto is four points behind Philadelphia for the second Eastern Conference Wild Card berth, while Montreal leads the Atlantic Division.
With the division and conference races for playoff position so tightly packed, one might think that the Rangers are obsessed with the standings.
You would be wrong.
“I feel like you don’t pay attention too much what’s going on,” Lundqvist said after the Rangers’ 5-2 win over the Flyers in Philadelphia on Jan. 4. “It’s too early. All I know is everybody’s winning around us. So you just have to focus on yourself right now and there’s no easy games, there’s no easy points that you’re just going to get. Doesn’t matter who you play. So what you can do is prepare for each game as much as you can and then leave everything out there. Then you’re going to get yourself a good chance of being in a good spot when April comes here. But there’s no point really to look around really too much right now.”
If, as Lundqvist posits, it is far more worthwhile to engage in self-examination than obsess over the outside world, then studying the Rangers last two games reveals an offensive attack being led by its depth.
Indeed, Michael Grabner scored four goals in the two games—two goals in each game—while Adam Clendening and Kevin Hayes scored twice against Columbus and Philadelphia, respectively. Chris Kreider and Oscar Lindberg added a goal each in those games.
While the Rangers do not have a player in the Top 35 in scoring—Hayes’ 31 points ranks 38th in the league—Grabner’s 19 goals are tied for fifth and Kreider’s 16 goals are tied for eighth. Essentially, the whole has been greater than the sum of its parts.
“I think we have a really good room, good character, and everybody cares. But sometime you are a little off like yesterday and as a group we were not able to get out of it and we lost and it’s not fun to do that at home. But again it’s important to respond and we did. I thought we played a really smart road game. Kept it pretty simple and we scored some timely goals here,” Lundqvist said in Philadelphia.
“It’s fun where we are all engaged. You can sense it. Starting in the first period, then the second, and third, everybody’s working hard, blocking shots, and trying to do the right thing. So as a goalie you want to respond and be there. Until we separated ourselves in the third it felt like every play mattered, save or a pass. I think the focus was there tonight and made a huge difference.”
You can follow Metro New York NHL writer Denis P. Gorman on Twitter at @DenisGorman.