Despite losing three games in a row (one in a shootout), the New York Rangers are still a very real threat in the Eastern Conference.
The NHL has proven to fans over the years that any team that makes the playoffs has a chance to win the Cup. This abridged season has not even reached its halfway point, and the difference right now in the Eastern Conference between first place and ninth place is only eight points.
At this time, no team (even Buffalo) is out of contention, but the Rangers are an especially dangerous team to overlook.
They are not playing their best hockey right now, but the Rangers know they have the talent and hunger to be a title contender.
The Eastern Conference standings will shift a lot between now and late April. Here are five reasons the Rangers will be shifting upwards during that time:
Every team deals with major injuries during the course of a season. The key to overcoming injuries to major contributors is lucky timing and opportunistic AHL players.
Right now, the Rangers are pretty banged up. Rick Nash has missed the past three games with an undisclosed injury. Darrell Powe, who started his Rangers career brightly, has also been on injured reserve with a concussion.
To make matters worse, the Rangers' already-thin defensive unit will most likely play for a little while without two of their top four. Michael Del Zotto missed their last game with a back injury, and Ryan McDonagh took an unpenalized cheap shot from Max Pacioretty Saturday night that will likely keep him in street clothes for at least one game.
This looks like it will be a lean couple of games for the Rangers due to the abundance of injuries, but injured veterans means vital experience and new opportunities for young players.
Injuries in February also hopefully lead to fresh legs in March and peak performance in April and May.
Chris Kreider and J.T. Miller have a combined twenty games of NHL regular-season experience. That is a blink of an eye in terms of experience and comfort level.
Both players have talent, speed and potential that makes this regular season very exciting for Rangers fans, but it will take some time for their flashes of brilliance to start happening consistently.
Christian Thomas also held his own in his NHL debut.
By the time the season ends, if all three players are still with the Rangers, they will have enough experience and confidence to really make an impact in the playoffs.
These kids can be great, but greatness takes time.
It probably won't happen this week because of the injury to Ryan McDonagh, but the Rangers defense has to improve for the Rangers' record to improve.
Michael Del Zotto has missed some time, and Dan Girardi and Marc Staal both played hurt Saturday night.
The Rangers have not had a clean sheet yet this season, and that is largely the fault of the defense because they are allowing opponents to take good shots from dangerous positions, without enough pressure.
Despite all the goals allowed this season, the Rangers are still just one point away from eighth place in the East with three games in hand.
The defensive unit started the season slowly and is now hindered by injury, but more practice and some time to recover will heal what ails this bunch.
Henrik Lundqvist does not have the statistics of a Vezina Trophy-winning goalie so far this season.
He's averaging over two goals against per game, and backup Martin Biron hasn't fared that much better. Lundqvist is still one of the best in the league, and the Rangers' success starts and stops with the play of their Swedish net-minder.
Lundqvist and the Rangers will find the form that made them one of the best defensive teams in the NHL last season, and if that happens towards the end of April, watch out, NHL.
There are so many reasons why the 2013 Rangers still have a great chance to make another deep playoff run, but the best reason is that this team still barely knows each other.
Rick Nash hasn't even played 15 games for the Rangers, let alone new faces like Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, Darroll Powe, Taylor Pyatt, Jeff Halpern, Arron Asham and others.
Without a training camp to ease the adjustment, the Rangers had to adapt during meaningful games and made a lot of mistakes that lead to easy chances.
There is still a lot of hockey to be played, and the Rangers still have time to reach their potential, but they don't have time to waste.