Thanks once again to Joe for taking the time to answer our questions.
1- Can you bring us up to date on the injuries? Lots of attention has been given to Rick Nash's mystery ailment, but Darroll Powe, and more recently Ryan McDonagh both have missed games. (All concussions?) I see Michael Del Zotto was out last game too - is he hurt?
The Rick Nash injury is almost certainly a concussion, it just hasn't been officially been confirmed by himself or the team. Darroll Powe did have a concussion, but he returned to action in the Rangers' loss to the Winnipeg Jets. Ryan McDonagh's injury is also unconfirmed, but it's assumed he has a concussion. He is expected to play tonight. Michael Del Zotto also has a mystery injury, and it is expected we will see him tonight as well. There's been a lot going on.
2- For all the headliners on the roster, I've heard the commentators point to the loss of quality grinders in the bottom-6 (i.e. Brandon Prust, Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov) when looking to explain the Rangers troubles. But I see there are many young up-and-comers who might be rounding into form for the faster style of play they seem to be aiming for. Is it a valid observation about this being a 2-line team? Who among the lesser knowns do you like and see becoming an important contributor to the team over the next season or two?
It's a tough question to answer, honestly. I think Derek Stepan, J.T. Miller, Michael Del Zotto and Chris Kreider will all be really, really good players in the future. I think Del Zotto and Stepan are good now, honestly. I think the real wildcard, however, is Carl Hagelin. [Photo above] He's been pretty spectacular for most of this season, and if he continues to grow offensively he might be a real weapon the Rangers can utilize in the future.
3- Last time these two teams faced each other, the Blueshirts were 5-5-0 and looking for consistency. In that game they did a good job of keeping the Lightning from finding any kind of offensive spark on a Sunday night game at the end of a Tampa Bay roadtrip and won 5-1. New York ended up earning points in 5 straight over that stretch. Now they've lost 4 in a row (0-3-1) and are back to .500 at 8-8-2.
Looking to the Conference standings, it's unusual to see there are three troubled teams in the Atlantic (not as troubled as the 5 for 5 in the Southeast). Which team currently below the cutline in the Atlantic (Flyers, Rangers, Islanders) is most likely to climb their way back into the mix over the next 30 games and why?
I would have to say it's between the Rangers and the Flyers. Both teams simply have too much talent to fall off the way they have. But, then again, in this shortened season nothing would surprise me. The Rangers and Flyers both need to find their game and get things together. This season does throw a lot of unknowns around, and when the Rangers find their game they should be fine, but time can become an issue. Things are pretty close at the top, though, so there shouldn't be a sense of panic for anyone.