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Rangers need to capitalize on ‘home’ schedule

Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello is checked into the

Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello is checked into the boards during the third period by the Devils' John Moore at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Rangers’ schedule looks as if it was made out by a fan hoping for a quick start to the season.

They’re playing 10 of 13 at home this month and 13 of the first 18 overall at their Garden rink.

So far, though, their home work has added up to 1-3. Their road work hasn’t been good enough, either, at 0-2. The 1-5 start is the franchise’s worst since 1980. If 1-5 becomes 1-6, it would be its worst since 1960.

And it just so happens that two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh is coming to play on Tuesday night for the second game in a season-high six-game homestand. Then the Islanders arrive on Thursday followed by Cup finalist Nashville on Saturday. San Jose and Arizona are on tap for next week.

The Rangers know they need to start taking advantage of their home-ice advantage in a hurry.

“It was a huge key of ours,” Rick Nash said after practice Monday at the MSG Training Center. “We knew, obviously, the schedule coming in. We’ve put ourselves in a bit of a hole. “You come in with high hopes, especially for us with our homestand here. We wanted to get off to a good start. It’s definitely a shock. But at the same time, it’s reality. We’ve got to deal with it and try to get out of it.”

They’re planning on it.

“Our spirits are still high,” Brady Skjei said. “We’ve got a lot of fight in this room.”

Nash indicated a need to improve the forechecking and in the one-on-one battles. They also need to slash their turnovers. Most of all, they need to score more after finding the net two times or less in five of the games and converting just two even-strength goals in those games.

So Alain Vigneault continued his line tinkering at practice. Among the changes, the coach had Nash and Mats Zuccarello on the wings with top center Mika Zibanejad.

“I’m going to get the continuity once I get the results,” Vigneault said. “ . . . Two five-on-five goals in five games is not doing it. It’s not just the line combination. It’s the [defensemen] jumping up in the play at the right time.”

The Rangers will have to be on point against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins. They’re 3-2-1 overall, but 3-1 in their last four.

“They’ve got a lot of skill and obviously one of the best players in the game and a few really good young players,” Skjei said. “They pose a threat for sure. But we’ve got to match it with our speed. We’re a quick team. We can make plays just like them. So we’ll be ready for the test.”

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