Rangers hope to keep window open vs. Panthers (Nov 04, 2017)
SUNRISE, Fla. -- New York Rangers fans have been dreading "the window".
The Rangers have made the playoffs seven straight seasons, reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in 2014. But ever since then, media analysts have talked about that proverbial window of opportunity closing.
Due to salary-cap concerns, New York let go of numerous standouts from that season, including Ryan Callahan, Carl Hagelin and Cam Talbot. Other players were let go for a variety of reasons, including Derick Brassard, Brian Boyle, Dan Girardi, Derek Stepan, Anton Stralman, Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards and Dominic Moore.
Somehow, the Rangers have continued to be a threat in the Eastern Conference, at least until they started this season 3-7-2.
But New York (5-7-2), which visits the Florida Panthers (4-7-2) on Saturday night at the BB&T Center, has since won two straight games, beating a pair of hot teams in the Las Vegas Golden Knights and the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Rangers captain and defenseman Ryan McDonagh said the 2-1 overtime win over Tampa Bay on Thursday was encouraging.
"This was probably the most full game we've played," McDonagh told the media after New York held NHL scoring leaders Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos without a point. "We have to continue to keep that effort against Florida."
McDonagh is one of eight Rangers from the Stanley Cup team who are still with the organization. The list includes goalie Henrik Lundqvist, defenseman Marc Staal and forwards Mats Zuccarello, Rick Nash, Chris Kreider, JT Miller and Jesper Fast. Miller and Fast were part-time players on that team but are key members of the Rangers now.
Nash, 33, is in the final year of his contract, but it's the status of Lundqvist, 35, that draws the most attention in terms of that window closing. He is 4-4-2 this season with a 3.00 goals-against average and a .904 save percentage.
This is Lundqvist's 13th season in the NHL, and -- if those numbers were to hold up -- they would easily be the worst of his career. He's never been less than eight games over .500. He's never had a save percentage lower than .912. And he's never had a GAA higher than 2.74 -- and that was last season.
Florida has its own goaltending issues.
Roberto Luongo only played four games this season and is out with an injury to his right thumb. His return is imminent, but he is 38, and there are real signs of slippage in his game. He went 17-15-6 last season and his 2.68 GAA was his worst in 11 years.
This season, Luongo is 1-2-0 with a 3.53 GAA.
His backup, James Reimer, is in his eighth season. He went 18-16-5 last season, splitting time with Luongo.
This season, Reimer is 3-4-1 with a 4.00 GAA, and he has been pulled in two straight games. The Panthers replaced him with Antti Niemi, who was brutally bad earlier this season, forcing the Pittsburgh Penguins to release him.
"Stats don't lie -- I think he's fighting it a little bit," Florida coach Bob Boughner said Thursday when asked about Reimer. "We have to tighten up and support him as best as we can."
Indeed, the Panthers have lost three games in a row, all at home. In the past two losses, they have allowed 15 goals.
The Panthers made a roster move on Friday, sending forward Denis Malgin to their AHL affiliate, the Springfield Thunderbirds. That could be a sign that Florida will activate one of their injured forwards: Connor Brickley, Jared McCann or Colton Sceviour.
Meanwhile, the Rangers benched Brendan Smith for the Tampa Bay game, and the defense improved without him. Smith signed a four-year, $17.4 million contract in the offseason and has already been a healthy scratch four times in 14 games.
Florida's offense ranks fifth in the NHL, but the Panthers are bottom two in shorthanded goals allowed and overall goals allowed.
Matchups to watch include first-line centers Aleksander Barkov and Mika Zibanejad of New York. Each has 14 points. And also watch the power-play quarterbacks/defensemen: Kevin Shattenkirk has 11 points for New York. Keith Yandle, an ex-Ranger, is off to a slow start with six points.