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NHL: Rest Of Season Outlook For Local Teams

by Photo of Gil Santos

Both the Rangers and Devils will be in a playoff race while the Islanders want the season to end.

NHL: Rest Of Season Outlook For Local Teams

The Olympic break is over, so it's time for the NHL to resume its season, which officially kicks off tonight. The local teams will hit the ice again on Thursday with about 20 or more games left to play. The New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils are poised to make a run at the playoffs while the New York Islanders' playoff hopes are essentially over and will look forward to the off-season. Here is an outlook for the rest of the season for the three local teams. 

New York Rangers

With a 32-24-3 record and 66 points, the Rangers currently hold the 6th spot in the playoffs. After a rough and inconsistent first half of the season, the Blue Shirts have picked it up especially in the month of January, going 10-4-1. Moreover, they headed into the Olympic break winning five of their last six games, including beating both the Devils and Islanders at Yankee Stadium in the Stadium Series. 

Unfortunately for the Rangers, they will be without Mats Zuccarrelo, who is their points leader and most consistent player, for three-to-four weeks. Zuccarello broke his left hand while playing for Norway in the Olympics. However, the Rangers should not have too much trouble with the depth of talent at forward at their disposal. The Rangers' best player, Rick Nash, will need to step it up as he is having an average year to his standards. But after winning a gold medal in the Olympics, it is likely Nash will come in very confident and ready to lead his team to the playoffs. 

In addition, Henrik Lundqvist is coming off a great performance for Sweden in Sochi and seemed to have regained his form going into the break. Lundqvist struggled early in the season, but he has been stellar with a 1.92 goals against average and .937 save percentage in his last 14 games. The Blue Shirts will look for that type of play heading into their final 21 games. 

I fully expect the Rangers to easily make the playoffs, but the question is which seed they will take. They are just two points out of the 4th/5th spot and three from the third seed. In the end, I predict they will be the fifth seed and overtake the Toronto Maple Leafs to face the Montreal Canadiens in the first round. 

New Jersey Devils

The 2013-2014 season has been up and down to say the least for the New Jersey Devils. New Jersey is three points from a wild card spot with a 24-22-13 record and 61 points. On the negative side of things, the Devils have been frustratingly inconsistent as they have yet to win more than three games in a row and haven't done it since November. Like last season, they rank among the worst in the league in goals per game at 27th. In their final game before the break against the Washington Capitals, they were shut out for the fifth time this season.  

Fortunately for the Devils, their defense is as stingy as ever. New Jersey ranks fifth in goals against and first in penalty killing. Goaltender Cory Schneider seems to have adjusted well to his new home after being traded to the Garden State from the Vancouver Canucks during the off-season. Schneider has taken the starting goalie job from future Hall of Famer, Martin Brouder, with his exceptional play especially in the last two months. In January and February, Schenider has a 1.47 GAA and a .942 save percentage. Moreover, Jarmoir Jagr proved he has plenty of gas left in the tank. Jagr leads in the team in points with 49 and goals with 17. He has far and away been the Devils' best player.

Despite the stellar goaltending and the play of Jagr, the Devils will need to acquire more scoring help from outside the organization. They have tried to solve the problem within, calling up young forward Reid Boucher and offensive-minded defenseman Eric Gelinas. Boucher contributed only two goals in 23 games while Gelinas has provided a spark to the offense early, but his play has tailed off a bit and is a defensive liability. General manager Lou Lamoriello has his work cut out for him to try and find a scoring forward. With no first round pick for the upcoming draft and a weak farm system, a deal will be very difficult to come by. 

In the end, I do not believe the Devils will make the playoffs. While they are only three points out of the final wild card spot, they have to jump four teams to do so. In addition, they have to show more consistency and start stringing more than three wins, but I don't see them capable of accomplishing that with the lack of goal scoring. 

New York Islanders

It has been a complete and utter disaster for the New York Islanders as they sit in last place of the Metropolitan division with a 22-30-8 record and 52 points. After a surprising playoff appearance during the shortened season, the Islanders were looking to build off that experience but instead took several steps back. Defense and goaltending have been the main problem for the Islanders. They currently rank 29th in goals against, 29th in the penalty kill, and their goalies are last in the league in save percentage at .892. 

If fans thought things couldn't get any worse for their team, they were wrong. The Islanders lost their best player, John Tavares, to a partially torn MCL. He will miss the rest of the season. Fortunately for Tavares, he will not undergo surgery and will only need 8-12 weeks to rehab the injury, so he should be ready to go for next season. In addition, Frans Nielsen, who is third in points for the Islanders, was placed on the injured reserve for a broken hand. 

With the season essentially lost, the Islanders will likely look to be sellers for the upcoming March 3 trade deadline. Their most valuable trade chip is Thomas Vanek, whom they acquired early in the season from the Buffalo Sabres. Vanek declined an offer to resign earlier this month with the Islanders and is poised to test free agency. Also, they will probably attempt to trade 27-year-old defenseman Andrew MacDonald as he also declined an offer to re-up with the team.  

If and when they send Vanek and MacDonald packing, it is going to get ugly real fast in the last 20 games. The Islanders could win less than five games down the stretch and will hope the season ends as quickly as possible. 

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