With the conclusion of the All-Star break, all eyes turn to the Feb. 26 trade deadline, which is now less than four weeks away. The winds of change could come, but Rangers coach Alain Vigneault says he isn't worried about any potential distractions or "white noise," as he put it, as his club returned to practice Tuesday one point out of playoff position.
"The only thing that our whole coaching staff and our players are focused on is whoever that next opponent is," Vigneault said. "I'm not at all concerned about the white noise surrounding any trade period. As a player, you're a professional; you've got to focus on what your game is and what you need to do. As a coach and a coaching staff, you have to make sure that your players are focusing on the right things and working on the right things on and off the ice, and that's exactly what we're doing."
The reality is that even though the Rangers began Tuesday just two points behind second place in their division, they'd have to play much better and do so consistently over the next month to show they have what it takes to not just make the playoffs but go on a run, if it's not already too late.
Veteran players especially know the kind of moving and shaking that goes on each February. After the Rangers' Thursday win in San Jose, Marc Staal said that they'd have to show management in the ensuing weeks that they deserve to remain intact.
"Yeah, for sure. If you're not playing good hockey and not winning hockey games going into the most important time of the year, it's hard to have confidence that you're gonna be able to turn that around going down the stretch," Staal said. "We've got to show it and be more consistent and keep trying to climb in the standings."
The Rangers are 6-8-2 in their last 16 games and held on in San Jose to avoid a winless four-game trip, during which Vigneault is convinced his club performed better than the 1-3 record indicated. Usually 96 points serves as a marker of sorts for playoff qualification, though Vigneault said it might take less than that. The Rangers would need 41 points over their last 32 games to get there. Their first six games post-break, beginning with Thursday against Toronto, are against teams which were in playoff position entering Tuesday.
"This is gonna be a lot of fun for guys that love the competition," Vigneault said. "I just look at the teams and how close we all are as far as what we put on the ice. It's gonna be a battle. It's gonna take your best effort and your best preparation."
Henrik Lundqvist didn't practice as he was given an extra day off after returning from All-Star weekend. Tony DeAngelo and Peter Holland were recalled from Hartford but Vinni Lettieri wasn't. Cody McLeod, who was claimed off waivers last Thursday from Nashville, will play against Toronto.