Rangers confident heading into All-Star break
NEW YORK (AP) After getting off to a strong start, the New York Rangers have cooled off a bit. Yet they haven't lost any confidence heading into this weekend's All-Star break.
''I still like what our team does night in, night out and we should have a lot of confidence,'' captain Ryan McDonagh said. ''We're still in a good spot.''
The Rangers won 13 of their first 17 games and led the Metropolitan Division while averaging 4.24 goals per game. They had scored fewer than three only three times - all losses.
Then they hit a cold spell, losing six of 10 (4-5-1), but have followed it up with some good stretches, too. After winning eight of its last 13, New York headed into the break fourth in the Metropolitan at 31-17-1 and holding the Eastern Conference's top wild-card spot.
The Rangers, who were 10-4-0 after playing 10 of their first 14 at home, are at Madison Square Garden for 10 of 15 after the break.
''That's a good opportunity for us to get back on a roll again,'' said McDonagh, who is spending the weekend in Los Angeles for his second straight All-Star appearance.
Philadelphia, which holds the second wild-card spot in the East, trails the Rangers by seven points, but the last-place teams in the conference are only another seven points behind the Flyers.
''There are no bad teams,'' Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. ''Everybody's still in, so you're going to have to get ready for every game and prepare yourself to go out and work hard and execute.''
The Rangers have done plenty of good things over the first 49 games. They are second in the NHL in goals per game (3.37), and one of four teams - along with Washington, Columbus and Minnesota - with a scoring differential of at least plus-38.
One area where the Rangers need to execute better is the power play. They rank 13th in the NHL at 20.7 percent, but are just 3 for 29 over their last 10 games.
''It's gone cold here this last stretch of games,'' McDonagh said. ''This break will be good here. We'll get to look at some things and come back refreshed and recharged and ready to go.''
New York center Derek Stepan added: ''Power plays, it's important to have swagger and you have to go out and work hard. Sometimes you have to get a bounce.''
The Rangers have been getting balanced scoring this season, with five 30-point scorers - Mats Zuccarello (38), Stepan (37), Kevin Hayes (35), J.T. Miller (35) and Chris Kreider (34) - and 10 with at least 20. One of the biggest surprises has been speedy free-agent signee Michael Grabner, who has a team-high 21 goals - more than halfway to his career high of 34 set in 2010-11 with the Islanders and already his highest total since then.
Some youngsters have also been playing well, led by rookies Brady Skjei (20 points), Jimmy Vesey (11 goals, eight assists) and Pavel Buchnevich (14 points in 17 games), as well as newcomers Mika Zibanejad (17 points in 24 games) and Brandon Pirri (16 points).
''We're a team that definitely added some youth, and added some speed,'' Vigneault said. ''We've got some talent on this team, and we're trying to put it together. We're trying to improve on a daily basis, and that's what we're going to continue to try and do.''
Veteran goalie Henrik Lundqvist appears to have righted himself after his own rough stretch, giving up just six goals on 110 shots in his last four games - including a shutout - after allowing 20 on 113 shots the previous four.
Lundqvist also likes how the Rangers have been playing lately and doesn't see a need for a lot of tinkering as they look to make the playoffs for the seventh straight season.
''I don't think we should change too much,'' Lundqvist said. ''It's going to come down to just determination every night, wanting to win every game. ... As you go down the stretch, I think more and more teams are going to have that desperation and you're going to have to match it.
''We definitely have the skill, we have the structure, to be a strong team, and then it comes down to that desperation, and we have that.''
The Rangers return from the break Tuesday night against former coach John Tortorella and the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Follow Vin Cherwoo at www.twitter.com/VinCherwooAP