After 41 games — the exact midpoint of the season — the Rangers are pretty much where we expected them to be prior to opening night: barely in playoff position. To be more specific, they currently occupy the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, two points behind Montreal and a point ahead of Atlanta, Tampa Bay, and the Islanders. In many ways, this is quite an accomplishment, considering how poorly they played in November and the first half of December. That is, until you realize that being in the thick of the playoff hunt isn’t much of an accomplishment at all when pretty much the entire Eastern Conference is fighting for the last couple of playoff spots. The Rangers may not be all that great, but they’ve got a lot of company.
Seven teams — nearly half the conference — have between 41 and 45 points. (And Montreal, at 45 points, has as many as three games in hand on some of those teams.) Only Carolina — who beat the Rangers at the Garden Saturday in the back half of a home-and-home — is out of contention right now.
How the Rangers got to this point isn’t anything we haven’t seen before: A white-hot start to give themselves room for error, then roughly two months of errors. More recently, a nice four-game winning streak in late December was followed by losses in three out of four. That’s no way to win a Cup, but overtime-loss points do start to add up, and that’ll be important come April.
At least there’s been one beacon of light so far: Marian Gaborik has been as good as advertised, and maybe even a little better. He’s been worth every penny — and give credit to Glen Sather for finally giving Jim Dolan’s millions to someone who actually deserves them — even if we’re constantly afraid he’ll get hurt. He’s scored a quarter of the team’s goals — he’d outscored last year’s team leader by Christmas — and he has a point on nearly half of them.
Besides Gaborik, for every pleasant surprise (like Michael Del Zotto, who at 19 is outscoring Michal Rozsival and Wade Redden combined) there’s been a massive disappointment (like pretty much everything Christopher Higgins has done). Henrik Lundqvist has been (mostly) good of late, but he’s also started every game since the end of November — and has the extra workload of the Olympics on the horizon. He’s on pace to play 74 NHL games, which would be a career high. He can’t afford to be just good; he’ll need to be great for this team to make any noise at all. Marian Gaborik can only score so many goals.