The Olympic break is still two weeks away, but with eight teams fighting for the final three Eastern Conference playoff spots, every point is critical to the New York Rangers.
They’d love to remember what it’s like to earn one.
The Rangers’ four-game stretch without a point is their longest in more than three years, and they’ll try to avoid a fifth straight loss Saturday night as they open a three-game road trip against the Phoenix Coyotes.
New York (24-23-7) is 2-6-1 over its last nine games, and aside from a 14-goal outburst during those two victories, has barely found the back of the net. The Rangers have totaled four goals in their seven losses during that stretch, and have been shut out four times.
Leading goal scorer Marian Gaborik(notes) doesn’t have a point in his last four games, and neither does New York. After a 5-1 loss to Carolina on Wednesday, the Rangers have been outscored 17-3 during their first four-game regulation losing streak since a seven-game stretch Dec. 16-29, 2006.
New York, in sixth place by itself on Jan. 9, is now one of eight teams within three points of each other battling for the sixth through eighth spots in the East.
“No one is going to feel sorry for you,” coach John Tortorella said. “The best thing for us is to get out of town.”
The Rangers had no problem scoring in their last visit to Phoenix, a 7-3 win on Oct. 28, 2006, and they didn’t have any trouble when the Coyotes (31-18-5) came to Madison Square Garden on Oct. 26. Gaborik scored twice on the power play and Vinny Prospal(notes) had a goal and two assists in a 5-2 win that saw Ilya Bryzgalov(notes) pulled in the second period.
Gaborik has scored 10 goals while being involved in nine straight wins against Phoenix dating to his days in Minnesota.
Despite that rough effort, Bryzgalov is enjoying his best season as a pro while sparking the Coyotes’ resurgence. He tied a career high with his 28th victory in Phoenix’s latest game, a 3-2 shootout win over Calgary on Thursday.
The Coyotes are 12 points behind San Jose in the Pacific Division, but are in a tight race with Colorado and Los Angeles for the West’s fourth spot and the accompanying home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
After Saturday’s game, though, Phoenix plays 17 of its final 27 games on the road.
“Every point at this time of year is a big point,” said winger Lauri Korpikoski(notes), a 2004 first-round pick of the Rangers who was traded to the Coyotes in July for Enver Lisin(notes). “We need to get points out of these home games because we’re going on the road for quite a long time.”
The Coyotes have been successful despite their power play converting at a rate (17.1 percent) that’s among the bottom third of the league, but they’ve scored three goals with the man advantage in their past two games.
Facing the Rangers could help it even more. New York has allowed a power-play goal in seven consecutive games for the first time since Jan. 26-Feb. 12, 2003.