VANCOUVER — A year ago, around mid-December, the Rangers embarked on a similar western journey: First to this city, where Alain Vigneault coached for seven years, then to Edmonton and onto Calgary. They emerged with a Pacific Division sweep, routing the Canucks, 5-1, blanking the Oilers, 2-0, and dousing the Flames, 5-2.
“We needed to put together more than one or two good games,” said Henrik Lundqvist, who was in net for all three games and will face the Canucks at Rogers Arena Wednesday. “And we need to start winning.”
That same mission statement comes into play on this trip, with the Rangers scuffling in their last 10 games (4-5-1), but perhaps turning a corner.
“We’re in that phase where we had a good start, we know our goaltending was a big part of it, and now we’re slowly but surely rounding out the other parts of our game,” Vigneault said after practice Tuesday, “from our puck management to when we don’t have the puck, and the ability to get it back quicker.”
Analytics and observation, Vigneault said, are pointing in the right direction. “I think we’ve been better in time in the offensive zone, shot ratio, scoring chances against,” he said. “I think we’re on the right track and I really see a mindset from our group to continue that. I’ve said many times, since I’ve been in New York, that in a season, you’ve got to progress, you’ve got to improve.”
The three opponents are all below .500, but each club also has been showing positive signs. The Oilers have won three in a row, the Flames two, and the Canucks beat the Sabres, 4-1, here on Monday.
The same revised line combinations that Vigneault deployed in the 4-1 defeat of Ottawa Sunday will stick. So Derick Brassard, who scored twice Sunday, will center Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Hayes; rookie Oscar Lindberg will be between Chris Kreider and Rick Nash; Dominic Moore will center a third line of J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast, and Tanner Glass and Viktor Stalberg will flank Jarret Stoll.
For rookie defenseman Dylan McIlrath, who grew up in Winnipeg and is getting regular shifts with Kevin Klein sidelined because of an abdominal strain, this trip also provides an opportunity to catch up with family. Two aunts will be at Wednesday’s game and his older brother, Sean, will see him in Edmonton on Friday.
“Truth is, when you get on the road, it helps you focus a bit,” said Moore, who won 13 of 14 faceoffs Sunday at his natural position, rather than at left wing. “We won all three here last year. I think we’re the type of team that enjoys challenges. This is an important trip . . . We did some things better in the Ottawa game, but we just want to continue to work at things, not get too caught up in the results day-to-day, as much as we want those to be a certain way.”