Imagine if, on a regular basis, the Rangers could walk into Madison Square Garden and depart a few hours later with a win.
That pleasant stroll back into the Manhattan night hasn’t happened enough this season.
If not for an NHL-high 16 victories on the road (16-7-0), the Blueshirts might be looking up at a Metropolitan Division playoff berth. A 13-9-1 record at home isn’t cutting it.
Consider other teams’ records at home: the Penguins, 19-2-2; the Capitals, 18-5-1; the Blackhawks, 17-5-4; the Blue Jackets, 17-5-1; the Canadiens, 16-5-2, and the Blues, 16-7-4.
In the previous two seasons, the Rangers were a strong home club: 27-10-4 and 25-11-5. But a regular-season home record doesn’t necessarily foreshadow a deep playoff run because in 2013-14, they were 20-17-4 and made the Stanley Cup Final.
Without a doubt, things were going swimmingly when the team’s 90th season began. The Blueshirts won eight of the first 10 under the iconic roof. But they have gone 5-7-1 since and have dropped five of the last seven on home ice, with the five losses coming by a combined score of 24-14.
It won’t be a cakewalk to raise that record. Of the 18 home games remaining, nine are against Metropolitan Division opponents and two are with Montreal, the Atlantic Division leader. There are five visits from Western Conference clubs and the two Florida teams come north. The Rangers have two games left before the All-Star break: on Monday against the Kings and Wednesday against the Flyers.
Like John Tortorella, his predecessor, Alain Vigneault insists there is no different strategy when playing at home, except for the home-side advantage in getting matchups on the last change. “There are no easy games,” Vigneault has said several times this season.
The Rangers haven’t given their fans a lot to cheer about recently. They have been plagued by slow starts, a lack of structure on defense, average goaltending and a tendency to get a little too fancy — instead of playing a simple, hard, north-south game — until it’s too late. Those traits surfaced in losses to Ottawa, Buffalo, Toronto, Pittsburgh and Minnesota.
“We owe it to ourselves . . . to prepare for every game, to execute, to give ourselves a chance,” captain Ryan McDonagh said after a 4-1 loss to the Sabres on Jan. 3. “It’s happened here too many times. If we don’t find a way to bring that intensity and execution night in and night out, we’re going to see ourselves fall off.”