The Rangers Have Reached a Crucial Juncture

With four straight home games, the Rangers can restore some footing

When the Rangers take the ice against the Jets on Tuesday night, they'll likely be doing it without Rick Nash and with a great need to start establishing themselves in this abbreviated season. 

The next four games are at home, further pushing an imbalance that has already seen them play the majority of their games at the Garden. When this homestand is done, they'll have played 14 home games against seven road dates which means they'll close the schedule with 17 road contests in the final 27 games. 

That's not an ideal way to make up a deficit in the standings, which suggests that the Rangers need to take advantage of their schedule as much as possible in the coming days. Securing a bunch of points now would make for a little more wiggle room down the road, although the prospect of grabbing those points is a hazy one at best. 

Nash's injury hasn't been publicly diagnosed, but concussion seems like the likeliest bet and the complete lack of word from the team makes you think it is going to be a while until he's back in the lineup. Ryan McDonagh may also have a concussion and may also be out for the next stretch, a development that would make life even more difficult for a team that can't seem to find itself. 

When the Rangers traded for Nash this offseason, you knew the result would be a different looking team than the one that lost in the Eastern Conference finals last season. You knew they were losing some grit that made last year's team an extremely difficult one to play against, but you also felt there was enough carryover from last year to make sure that Nash wound up fitting the bill. 

As it turned out, Nash needed no such encouragement. His game fit John Tortorella's style perfectly and he made the Rangers dangerous all by himself because of the way he could make a play to touch things off on either side of the ice. 

Since he's been out after an unpunished (by the league and his sandpaper-less Rangers teammates) hit by Boston's Milan Lucic, the Rangers haven't scared anyone. They provide no pressure and no discomfort, two things that are required of a winning hockey team. 

It's hard to see who is going to change that around. Brad Richards looks like a shell of himself, Marian Gaborik is benched regularly and Ryan Callahan's shoulder hasn't quite healed up enough to carry a larger load than he's carrying at present.

Chris Kreider barely plays, which makes you wonder why he isn't in Hartford, and the back end of the forward group isn't pulling the same kind of weight it did last year. We know that this team isn't doing what Tortorella wants them to be doing on a nightly basis, but it's still unclear whether or not they're capable of doing it with the players on hand.

The next four games would be a good time to answer that question in the affirmative because we're not too far away from the point where it's okay to start worrying about the fact that the Rangers aren't in playoff position. 

Josh Alper is also a writer for Pro Football Talk. You can follow him on Twitter.

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