CALGARY — That old travel magic is missing.
The Rangers were road warriors last season, when they plundered North America with a NHL-best 28-11-2 record, including three-game sweeps here in Western Canada and California. The results have been far less impressive this time around.
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After losses in Vancouver and Edmonton on Wednesday and Friday, the Blueshirts were a middling 6-5-2 away from Madison Square Garden going into Saturday’s game at the Saddledome, which ends a trip that can only be described as unsatisfying.
Although they were expected to be missing some players with the flu on Saturday, the Flames had won four straight games, and nine of their 12 wins had come at home. Even if the Rangers salvaged a point or two from the Flames, the three-game swing wasn’t what they anticipated. And there’s another challenge just around the bend.
After a one-game stop at home to host the Oilers on Tuesday, they are back on the plane for back-to-back games in Minnesota and Winnipeg, in venues where games are never easy. In all, starting on Dec. 17 against the Wild, the Rangers play five of their next seven on the road.
Last season after 13 road games the Rangers were 7-5-1, but had triumphed in the last four, including a three-game sweep against the Canucks, Oilers and Flames followed by a win in Carolina on Dec. 20. They caught fire and then won six of the next nine on the road. By the end of the regular season, the Rangers 58 road points of their 113 total, enough to secure the Presidents’ Trophy on the road. There’s no assurance that will happen again.
A quick look at the Eastern Conference reveals the plight of the Rangers, who have played 13 road games and compiled just 14 points.
Only four teams: the Red Wings (13), Sabres (12), Maple Leafs (12) and Hurricanes (11) have collected fewer points than the Rangers on the road, although the Blueshirts have played fewer away games than all but Detroit. The Blue Jackets also have 14 points but in 17 road games.
Meanwhile, the Bruins, who have been the best away from home, have 22 points in 14 games. The Canadians have 19 points in 14 games. The Capitals have 17 points in 12 games. The Devils have 17 points in 13 games. The Senators have 17 points in 14 games.
To be sure, the Rangers haven’t been getting blown out on the road: In the 13 games, they have scored 33 goals; opponents, 34. Nine of the 13 have been decided by a goal. But they have not compiled enough points to be considered a team to fear when coming into a visitors’ rink.
Taylor Hall, who strafed the Rangers with two goals and four points Friday in Edmonton’s 7-5 victory — on Glen Sather’s banner-raising night at Rexall Place to celebrate his five Stanley Cups with the high-flying Oilers in the 1980s — called the game, “an ode to the way they played back in the day.”
That’s not the style on the road that these current Rangers prefer.
Coach Alain Vigneault preaches speed, but also structure and defense, which went by the wayside Friday. In damning postgame remarks, captain Ryan McDonagh called the loss “unacceptable”, adding that the Rangers have not been “a hard team to play against.”
So true. To approach last year’s success away from Madison Square Garden, the Blueshirts need to avoid any more long detours before they run out of gas.