The New York Rangers enter their longest homestand of the year, with potentially their playoff seeding on the line. Yes, there are still 15 games remaining. But a seven games at home is significant and the Rangers are vulnerable, as they've lost three straight and have two key guys with injuries.
They'll begin to shape their playoff fortunes with a game against the New York Islanders on Saturday night (7:00 p.m. EST, MSG), and they'll have to do it without their captain, Ryan Callahan (foot), and best puck-moving defenseman, Michael Del Zotto (hip), who are both out again with nagging injuries.
The reason this homestand is so important is simple: every team has trimmed the Rangers' division and conference lead down lately. New York may technically lead the division by eight points, but the Pittsburgh Penguins' chase is more noteworthy as they're just four points back and 9-1-0 (compared to the Rangers' 4-4-2) in their last 10 games. Earning the first seed also means the Rangers likely avoid one of the teams in their division, which is one of the better ones in the NHL, in the first round of the playoffs.
The Rangers have recalled Mats Zuccarrello, who had 12 goals and 24 assists in the AHL, presumably because they need to add some offensive creativity up front. But Callahan's loss is huge -- he plays in every situation and embodies the Rangers' style -- and a bit worrisome, considering he missed several games then returned for the last two. He really needs to sit until it's significantly improved. The Blueshirts will also miss Del Zotto, who has emerged with 35 points this year and has been in and out of the lineup lately as well.
The Islanders like nothing more than to spoil their rivals' chances. They just played the Devils three times in a row, won the first and lost the last two, with the latter coming in the final minute as they had a 1-0 lead. They are 2-3-0 (with a shootout win) against the Rangers this season, and are led by a trio up front of John Tavares (64 points), P.A. Parenteau (60 points) and Matt Moulson (28 goals, 57 points).