Rangers: 3 keys to finishing the season strong following the trade deadline

New York Rangers left wing Chris Kreider (20) celebrates with center Mika Zibanejad (93) after scoring a goal in the second period against the Montreal Canadiens at Madison Square Garden
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The NHL trade deadline has come and gone, and the New York Rangers now have just 19 regular season games remaining this year. Their 41-18-4 record has earned the Blueshirts 86 points, good for fifth most in the league with the fourth highest points percentage.

With just under a quarter of a season left to go, it’s officially crunch time for the Rangers. A playoff berth should be clinched within the coming weeks, but it will take the continuation of elite play for it to happen. If the Blueshirts want to finish their season strong, these three things must happen:

1. Mika Zibanejad wakes up and starts to score more

Heading into the trade deadline, the Rangers were expected to acquire a top-line right winger to help Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider heat up. Stars were traded elsewhere one by one, and the Blueshirts eventually ended up landing Jack Roslovic in the final minutes of the deadline. Although he is a solid addition to the roster, he isn’t good enough to rekindle that first line on his own. If the top unit is going to succeed, Zibanejad needs to put some work into himself.

Zibanejad has gone pointless in his last six straight games and has just 19 goals on the season. It’s easily been his worst year since joining the Rangers, and if the second line wasn’t as dominant as it has been, there would be a major offensive problem in New York due to Zibanejad’s slump. If the Blueshirts want to finish their season strong, Zibanejad needs to wake up and begin to produce more.

2. Shesterkin continues his elite play from February and doesn’t regress back into a slump again

In the Rangers’ first matchup following the trade deadline, Igor Shesterkin earned his second shutout of the season by blanking the St. Louis Blues in a dominant 4-0 victory for the Blueshirts. The Russian goaltender stopped all 26 shots he faced, proving that he’s continuing to show elite performances after breaking out of his slump in February.

Shesterkin has been the backbone of the Rangers for years. Despite many defensive lapses over the last few seasons, his world-class abilities have been enough to keep the Blueshirts in Cup contention, and even bring them to the Eastern Conference Final in 2022. With other teams in the Metropolitan Division close behind the Rangers, there is no room for error in the net moving forward. Shesterkin has to be perfect, or the Blueshirts’ lead on the division could quickly diminish.

3. The Rangers win key matchups in their final 19 games

Although the Rangers lost just one game in February, some would argue that it was the easiest month of their schedule. March and April will be much tougher tasks for New York, as there are many top contenders left to face in the final 19 games of the season. The remainder of March includes seven matchups against teams currently in a playoff position, including one being against the Carolina Hurricanes, their second-place divisional rivals.

If the Rangers want to finish the season strong, it’s imperative that they perform well in these key matchups and beat these playoff-bound teams. They began the month of March by taking back-to-back losses to Toronto and Florida, two teams that they could very well come across at some point in the postseason.

The final stretch of the season will not be an easy one, but winning the Metropolitan Division and clinching a playoff berth relies on their success to continue against stronger opponents. If the Rangers can play against these top teams the same way they performed against St. Louis Saturday night, then there shouldn’t be any trouble moving on to the final part of the season.

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