The Rangers are about to learn an awful lot about themselves.
With games against the upper echelon of the East division rounding out their February schedule, the Rangers will get to see how they stack up to not only some of the NHL’s most competitive teams, but favorites to win the Stanley Cup.
Beginning on Thursday, the Rangers are set to face the Capitals and Flyers three times each, with four games against the Bruins – in addition to their third matchup of the season against the Islanders on Feb. 8. The Bruins, Capitals and Flyers currently make up the top three teams in the East, combining for a staggering record of 20-4-7.
The Flyers and Bruins are tied for the most points in the NHL, along with the Canadiens, with 16. The Capitals are right on their heels with 15 points.
“These teams, from a record standpoint, certainly have separated themselves from everybody else in our division,” head coach David Quinn said prior to Thursday’s matchup with Washington at Madison Square Garden. “We think our division is deep. There’s a lot of good teams in our division and obviously, you’re talking about teams that have been vying for the Stanley Cup here.
“We’re going to find out an awful lot about our group as we have game in and game out in the short season so far. Are we going to continue to be able to compete, play to pace, and put ourselves in a position to win game after game? At the end of the day, that’s what you got to do. We put ourselves in a position to win more than our record indicates, but it’s not good enough.”
After starting out 1-4-1 through the first six games of the season, the Rangers managed to pull out an overtime win in Buffalo and another over the Penguins four days later. There was the 5-4 overtime loss to the Penguins last Saturday, when Tony DeAngelo punched his ticket out of town – literally – but the Rangers pulled themselves one step closer to .500 and have nearly made up for their rocky start.
According to center Brett Howden, the team will need to have a short-term memory heading into this loaded portion of the schedule. It will be imperative for the team’s hopes of a playoff berth to get through this upcoming stretch with at least a handful of points.
“It’s a game every other day pretty much right now,” Howden said Wednesday. “For us, it’s just a quick memory, quick reset. No matter what happens, good or bad, we have to quickly reset and get ready for the next game because you can’t carry over things that happen last game to the next one. I think it’s just a quick memory and being ready for the next game.”
Quinn referenced the learning curve the team went through at the start of last season, which included a similar losing streak to the first eight games of this year, and how players were still identifying their roles. He wouldn’t say it has been to the same extent, but acknowledged that there are a handful of players still navigating where they fit on the team.
“Our mindset is important, how you feel about yourself, confidence comes from doing things well over and over again,” he said. “It’s not some magic pill we can give our players to give them confidence, confidence comes from doing the right thing over and over again and getting rewarded for it.
“To me, the fact that we’ve gotten five over the last six, our group feels good about itself because we have got some points here in this little stretch and we’re digging ourselves out of the hole we created.”