The New York Rangers picked up right where they left off at the All-Star break – with inconsistent results.
They might be catching struggling Minnesota at the right time as they look to get back on track, though their first meeting of the season with the Wild didn't go well at all.
New York faces a Minnesota team that's lost eight of nine and continues a road-heavy stretch at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.
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The Rangers (27-18-5) won two in a row for the first time since late November on Jan. 19 and 22 but have lost two of the ensuing three contests, falling 3-2 at New Jersey on Tuesday in their first game after the break. Surging J.T. Miller scored twice but the Devils followed his second goal in the third period with two of their own.
New York's special teams were the difference. The Rangers went 0 for 4 on the power play, giving them a 2-for-39 mark over the past 14 games, and allowed two power-play goals in as many chances – the second being David Schlemko's winner midway through the final period.
New York is 25th in the NHL in penalty killing at 78.4 percent. It hadn't given up a power-play goal in the previous four games.
''It's really frustrating,'' said defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who hit a post on New York's final man advantage shortly after Schlemko scored. ''We need everybody to execute a lot better. It's costing us too many games. We need to be a lot better in the special teams.''
At 11-15-3 since back-to-back victories Nov. 21 and 23, the Rangers' hold on one of the three automatic playoff berths in the Metropolitan Division is in jeopardy.
Injuries to key personnel aren't helping. Forward Rick Nash didn't practice Wednesday and is expected to miss a fourth straight game due to a bone bruise on his left leg, and the team announced that defenseman Kevin Klein suffered a fractured thumb against New Jersey and will be sidelined indefinitely.
“Just regroup here; we go back home next game and try to really get a good win there and get going here,” a dejected Henrik Lundqvist said.
Miller has been a bright spot, with the 22-year-old forward scoring seven goals in as many games to give him 15 on the season.
Minnesota's dropoff has been more precipitous than the Rangers', as the Wild (23-18-9) fell 5-3 on the road to the Islanders on Tuesday to give them a 6-11-3 record since Dec. 19. Usually known for their stingy defensive play, they've given up 11 goals in the past three games.
Devan Dubnyk was replaced in the third period by Darcy Kuemper after giving up all of the goals on 30 shots.
''We're losing the games right now,'' coach Mike Yeo said ''It's not like we are playing real well and just getting unlucky. Maybe a couple of games we had but for the most part we've had games and we've lost them and that's what we have to fix.''
Yeo's club, loser of four of its last five road contests, will be playing the seventh game of a stretch in which seven of eight are away from home.
The Wild, though, defeated the Rangers 5-2 on Dec. 17 to avoid a third straight loss in the series, outshooting New York 30-18 over the final two periods and scoring three times in the third. Mikko Koivu led the way with two goals and an assist.