The first "half" of the New York Rangers' season officially ends Tuesday when they host the Winnipeg Jets at 7:00 p.m. (MSG). The next time they play will be exactly a week from Tuesday (which means five days of rest), but in the meantime, there is a lot riding on this game for a team that has been among the league's best. One of those goals is going into the NHL All-Star break on a high note. The other is not dipping after such a solid all-around performance (and win) against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins. And finally, New York seeks to get rolling again and begin another extended win streak.
Whether the Rangers win or lose, their current 30-12-4 record and Eastern Conference-leading 64 points (also second in the league) can be considered a great success. For at least the first 46 games of the year, New York has raised some eyebrows with its play and performed beyond the collective expectations. This has been a close-knit team, however, that does has not let distractions (trip to Europe, Madison Square Garden renovations, HBO 24/7, Winter Classic) both them, so it shouldn't matter that now that the hockey world has begun focusing on them. But what will matter, especially in the second half, is how this young Blueshirts squad deals with being a team others now target, knowing they could take down one of the "best."
The Rangers have played the Jets twice this year, winning both (2-1 on the road, 3-0 at home). The Jets are a fringy team -- showing possible eighth-seed make-up on some nights, while showing the inconsistencies that will keep them on the outside looking in on many others. They're currently 22-21-6, three points out of the final playoff spot, but January has been a very unkind month: They've gone 3-7-1. Winnipeg has a negative-16 goal differential, compared to New York's plus-33. They rank in the bottom-third of the league in goals for per game and directly in the middle in goals against. Meanwhile, the Rangers allow the second-fewest goals and are 11th in goals for.
The Jets' leading point getter is Blake Wheeler with 33, and their top scorer is Evander Kane with 18. They only have two players with 30 or more points; the Rangers have four. What they need more consistency is in their goaltending, as Ondrej Pavelec (2.83 goals-against average, .910 save percentage) has shown flashes of brilliance but has also been very leaky as well.
Marian Gaborik leads the Rangers with 39 points and 25 goals. The Rangers need to get more consistent scoring from their other lines in the second half and improve their 23rd-ranked power play. Henrik Lundqvist will most likely get the start to finish off a wonderful first half: 21-10-4 record, with a 1.93 goals-against average and .936 save percentage.