The New York Rangers are moving and grooving more than halfway through the NHL regular season, but they will be going on hiatus for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Talk about pesky timing to say the least.
From February 9 to February 25, the NHL season will be put on hold, and the Rangers will resume with a February 27 showdown at Madison Square Garden vs. the Chicago Blackhawks. Given the Blueshirts' success as of late—including a 27-16-3 record since starting 3-7-0—will the Olympic break hurt or help the Rangers' playoff push?
You can make multiple cases in this situation, but this writer feels that the Olympic break will really benefit the Rangers. This year the Rangers have been successful because the overall body has been better than the sum of its parts.
There have been multiple players playing a vital secondary role, and they deserve a break. While the Rick Nashs, Henrik Lundqvists, Ryan McDonaghs and Mats Zuccarellos will be in Sochi, guys like Cam Talbot, Chris Kreider, Dan Girardi and various others will be resting up for a brutal end of the season.
When the Rangers resume NHL action, there will be 24 games left on the schedule. Thirteen of these games will be on the road, including a four-game swing through Western Canada ending in Colorado vs. the Avalanche. During the month of March, the Rangers will play 16 games in 31 days, including three back-to-backs with two coming on the road in Minnesota, Winnipeg, Columbus and New Jersey.
As you can see, the Blueshirts are going to be mighty busy, and they are going to be traveling a ton. During the playoff push teams like to stay in game shape, but management tries to conserve for the upcoming playoffs.
An example of this will be how Alain Vigneault handles the balance of Lundqvist and Talbot starting in goal during March. Lundqvist is the workhorse for the Rangers, so his trusty ward will spot him when necessary, especially if Sweden goes deep in the medal round in Sochi.
Will the Olympic break help or hurt the Rangers' playoff push?
While this is one example of the Olympics presenting a potential "problem" for New York, having another player participate is just what the doctor ordered.
The Rangers' top goal scorer, Rick Nash, missed 17 games earlier this season while dealing with a concussion. Upon return, the Sochi-bound winger looked dazed and confused. Nash is one of the hottest goal scorers in the NHL right now, and he recorded 11 tallies during the month of January alone.
When you take into consideration that Nash's best month this year coincides with him getting back into game shape, the last thing team brass wants is No. 61 sitting out for two weeks. Given the star power on Team Canada's roster, Nash may not be used in a primary role, but he will still be playing games.
Ultimately there are going to be detractors who say that Sochi may create a psychological letdown because the atmosphere will be just like the Stanley Cup Final for two weeks.
However, the games should be a good gut check for those involved. It will be a great experience to prepare the players involved for what could happen during May and June.
There are potential positives and negatives, but there are more positives to be had. The Sochi-bound Blueshirts will remain in game shape, they will gain valuable experience and they will get to have some fun. It is a tough competition, but they are bound to have some fun bonding with their fellow countrymen.
Likewise, the rest of the roster will earn some well-deserved rest, and there are bound to be some opportunities for team bonding. I mean, there could be a Team USA viewing party with John Moore, Brian Boyle and Kreider. Likewise, Dominic Moore could organize a viewing party for his fellow Canadians and so on. The opportunities are endless, and I seriously doubt that the boys won’t spend some time with each other during the break.
The coaching staff has a good handle on the roster, and it goes without saying that they will know how to get the Rangers ready for when the Olympics are over.
Stats and schedule information via NHL.com.