This has been a half-measure season for the Rangers, who did not wipe out the roster and have not been either consistently bad enough or gotten enough questionable goaltending to be in a prime pre-lottery location.
There is, however, plenty of time for them to descend to that destination, even in light of Tuesday’s conscientious 3-1 Garden victory over the Ducks that represented the Rangers’ ninth regulation-time win of the year, tied with the Kings for second-fewest in the league behind Detroit’s seven.
The paltry 60-minute win total, more than the camouflaged 15-13-4 record that is bolstered by a league-best five shootout victories, reflects the team’s relative strength. The fact that the Rangers are only four points out of a playoff spot the week before Christmas is indicative of the misleading nature of the NHL’s nobody-really-loses point system.
Understand this, too. The Rangers are five points ahead of the 28th-overall Flyers and seven up on the 29th-overall Blues (pending St. Louis’ match at Edmonton on Tuesday night) following this victory that gave the team a 3-5-3 record for this 11-game quadrant that is a reasonable facsimile of the opening 3-7-1 getaway. It is the 9-1-1 spree separating the first and latest subsections of the season that is the aberration.
If you want to label the Rangers’ play since Thanksgiving as a television series, you could call it “This is Us.” For, honestly, despite good intentions and, for the most part, good work habits, the Blueshirts are not big enough, strong enough, fast enough or talented enough to hang in through a winter that doesn’t even begin for another two days.