When they face off Monday in the heart of New York City, it will have been 10 days since both the New York Rangers and Calgary Flames took the ice for an NHL game.
Yet both clubs expect to pick up where they left off when they return from the All-Star break.
The Rangers, who opened a four-game homestand with an impressive 4-1 win over the Vegas Golden Knights on Jan. 27, struggled to find their footing early in the season, but have posted a 16-4-3 record since Dec. 5.
“We really turned it around and a big credit to everyone in here,” Rangers center Mika Zibanejad said. “We believed in this group. We believed in each other. We knew what we had to do.
“We weren’t happy the way we were playing the first 25 games or so, but everyone was just trying to get back to what we did well last year, trying to understand to do the simple things, the little details that really matter. We know that’s when we’re a good team.”
The Rangers are in third place in the Metropolitan Division, with their turnaround multi-faceted.
New York has received a more balanced offensive attack. Filip Chytil has four goals in the last three games, clicking on the second line with Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kaako. The team has tightened defensively, as well, surrendering more than three goals only three times in their 23-game turnaround.
The Rangers now expect to be just as potent as last season’s squad that reached the Eastern Conference finals.
“The sky’s the limit,” Rangers forward Artemi Panarin said through an interpreter during the All-Star Game festivities. “There’s always something to achieve and that’s what we will try to do.”
The Flames, who are coming off a 5-2 win over the Seattle Kraken on Jan. 27, have won three of four games and are on an 8-4-2 run.
They sit just outside a playoff spot, but six points is all that separates the top five teams in the Pacific Division.
“We’re a team that has that belief in any building, against any team, that if we play the right way, we can come out on top,” Flames forward Nazem Kadri said. “It’s always fun when you’re in the hunt and we’ve got an opportunity to be in the top three, top two, or one, and we haven’t even played close to our best. That’s a positive sign.”
The Flames, who also will visit Detroit, Buffalo and Ottawa on the current road trip, won the division crown last season, but have struggled to solidify a hold on a playoff spot.
Their recent stretch, however, gives them confidence going forward.
“I think we’re starting to find our groove, which is nice,” Kadri said. “That takes some time, as expected. We’ve probably had the biggest turnover of any team in the league, and that takes some time to get used to.
“But now, it’s crunch time. Thirty games left and we like that we’re in the fight and it’s time that we try to solidify ourselves.”
In anticipation of the trip, Calgary summoned forward Jakob Pelletier and defenseman Dennis Gilbert from the AHL. Both were sent down prior to the break, but Gilbert’s recall may be a sign that veteran Chris Tanev has not completely healed from the shoulder injury that has put him out of action for the last couple of outings.
–Field Level Media