The New York Rangers currently have a 21-20-3 record, which is good for 10th in the Eastern Conference.
So what can we expect from this consistently inconsistent team in the second half of the 2013-14 season?
Will the Blueshirts go on a playoff run or will they sink to the back of the conference? Which players will step up? Who will regress?
We'll provide five bold predictions for the second half of this season for the New York Rangers.
It's really just a matter of time before he's back to playing at a high level.
After eight flawless seasons, this is the first hiccup that Henrik Lundqvist has experienced in the NHL. At present, he has a 2.78 goals-against average and .906 save percentage—by far the worst marks of his career.
But do you really expect him not to regain his form? I think it would be crazy if he didn't.
He's shown flashes of his former greatness. Playing a starring role with Team Sweden, a legitimate contender at the Sochi Olympics, will help him find any lost confidence.
By the time the season ends, Lundqvist will be back to stealing games for the Rangers and making incredible saves. He's too good not to.
Chris Kreider has a terrific chance to win the Calder Trophy as the league's best rookie.
He's third in points and tied for fourth in goals among first-year players. He's second in power-play goals.
He's assumed a first-line role with Derek Stepan and Rick Nash and seemingly flies over the ice. He's quickly becoming the Rangers' best offensive player.
The more Kreider plays, the better he will be. It is not out of the question for him to score 25 goals by the time the season is over.
Kreider will play the most important role of any rookie in the league, since he's essential to the Rangers' success. Given the way he's responded to an expanded role, it's not a stretch to see him as the Calder winner.
Yes, Alain Vigneault seems to ooze disdain for Del Zotto. Yes, Elliotte Friedman of CBC Sports also mentioned the San Jose Sharks as potential trade partners, but I still don't see the Rangers trading the 23-year-old.
For one, his value is at an all-time low. What, reasonably, can the Rangers expect to get for Del Zotto? A low draft pick? A struggling prospect?
It's just not worth trading him. It's better to increase his value.
Besides, he seems to be playing a bit better lately. In the last two games, Del Zotto is plus-three with two power-play assists while averaging 16:46 of ice time.
Sure, it might be a fluke, but this is a defenseman who averaged nearly 22 minutes per game in the 2011 postseason when the Rangers went to the Eastern Conference Final. He has been a very good player in this league.
I think the Rangers would be better off holding on to Del Zotto for the rest of the year, hoping he regains some value. If he does, great. If not, then he clearly needs a change of scenery.
Don't give up on him just yet.
The Rangers have the eighth-ranked power play in the NHL, converting on 20.7 percent of their chances. However, the Rangers have the 24th-ranked offense, scoring just 2.4 times per game.
So what gives? While general offense and power-play efficiency don't always go hand in hand, if you're good on the man advantage, you're usually good on offense.
It doesn't help that Rick Nash has been a shell of himself, although he looked great against Columbus on Monday when he scored two goals.
It doesn't help that Derek Stepan has 26 points through 44 games this year. Last year, he had 44 points in 48 games.
The Rangers are healthy, though. Chris Kreider has been dominant. Mats Zuccarello and Benoit Pouliot have been fantastic.
In my opinion, it's just a matter of time before the Rangers start to score more. No, they're not going to start scoring eight goals a night like they did in Toronto, but that wasn't an accident either.
Since the game against Minnesota in late December, the Rangers have played with more energy, more passion and have scored more goals. Something changed that night, and they look like a totally different team.
The Rangers will start to score more consistently. This takes us directly into our next prediction.
Imagine if, at the start of the season, I was to tell you that:
- Rick Nash would miss significant time to injury and would go long stretches without scoring.
- Henrik Lundqvist would play the worst hockey of his career.
- Ryan Callahan and Marc Staal would miss significant time to injury.
- Derek Stepan would regress.
- Mats Zuccarello would become the Rangers' best forward.
Taking all this into account, would you think the Rangers would be over .500? Would you think they would be one point out of a playoff spot?
No, of course you wouldn't.
But that's what the Rangers have dealt with and that's where the Rangers find themselves. After 44 games, the Rangers are just one point out of a playoff spot. Yes, it's true.
The Rangers have been incredibly inconsistent. Their effort level hasn't always been there. Their best players have underperformed.
However, thanks to the heroics of Zuccarello and Cam Talbot, combined with the putrid play of the Metropolitan Division, the Rangers are in a good position.
They have won five of their last eight. They have four lines rolling. They looked utterly dominant in their win on Saturday against Toronto.
Things are looking up for the Rangers. They really are. They can easily make the playoffs.
And I think they will.