The Rangers got a rare day off this weekend due to the Flyers’ COVID-19 situation, allowing them some more practice time to try to cure what has recently ailed them on the ice.
Their next opponent has just been trying to get healthy and available, period.
The Devils will visit the Garden on Tuesday night to play their first game in more than two weeks after going through their own COVID-19 outbreak. They practiced Monday for the first time since shutting down on Feb. 1 and are still in the process of getting players back from the COVID-19 protocol list, though they finally have enough to play against the Rangers.
“What your opponent’s doing and how many guys they have and how they’re practicing, how many times they practice, that really has nothing to do with how we’re going to approach it,” coach David Quinn said Monday. “It’s a unique situation for everybody in the league this year. We’ve been very fortunate so far, avoiding a situation they’re in and Philly for that matter. But we expect they’re going to have a lineup that’s hungry to go.”
The Rangers (4-6-3) spent Monday’s practice drilling down on their offense, which has produced just two goals in their last three games, and their power play, which is scoreless in its last 14 opportunities.
The Devils, meanwhile, may have been more focused on just getting their wind back after the long layoff. Some players had been skating on their own in recent days but Monday marked their first time together after a 4-3-2 start to the season.
“Really, we just hit a reset for the whole team,” Devils coach Lindy Ruff said. “We’re looking at this as the start of the season again for us.”
After having as many as 17 players on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list, the Devils were down to five as of Sunday. Ruff said the group that practiced Monday is the group that will be available to play on Tuesday, which means they won’t have forwards Travis Zajac, Nikita Gusev or Nico Hischier, among others, according to reports.
Ruff, the former Rangers assistant coach, said the two-week shutdown had affected players differently, as did the symptoms for those who tested positive for COVID-19. It remains to be seen how those factors will come into play Tuesday.
“We had a good thing going before this 15-day break,” winger Kyle Palmieri said. “It’s not going to turn on like a light switch and be right back to where you [were]. But we just gotta focus on making sure we come out and I’m sure the energy’s gonna be high. It’s a Devils-Rangers game. I think emotionally, we’re gonna be plugged in and ready to go, but there’ll definitely be some rust that we might have to knock off after not practicing or doing much for 14-15 days. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Quinn said he expected a challenge from the Devils despite the layoff, pointing to how the Stars began their delayed season — a 7-0 victory and four straight wins — after going through a COVID-19 shutdown in January.
But Quinn remained focused more on his own team and which players he might have available — with Artemi Panarin and K’Andre Miller both questionable with injuries — as the Rangers looked to snap a three-game losing streak.
“It’s a challenge in general in this environment and the fact that we haven’t won the games we want to win,” Quinn said. “We haven’t been as successful as we want to be. So every team’s going through some injuries, that’s just pro sports. We certainly have our fair share. But we still feel we have a lineup that can win hockey games. There are things going on that are good, but not good enough.”