VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The schedule allowed the Rangers a rare off day on the road Wednesday, which the team chose to spend in beautiful (but rainy) Vancouver. The Blueshirts have spent a lot of time on the road so far this season, having played seven of their first 10 games away from home, with two games still remaining on the current trip.
But they are treating all that time away as a good thing, a welcome return to normalcy after last season’s COVID-19-modified, 56-game campaign.
Last week, veteran Chris Kreider pointed out that for some of the team’s young players, this might be their first true NHL season after play was limited to intradivision games last year. That idea dawned on Jacob Trouba over the weekend, when his defense partner, second-year man K’Andre Miller, told him how much he was looking forward to playing in Minnesota, where he is from. Miller didn’t get a chance to do that in his rookie season of 2020-21.
"I think the last two years were kind of unique in their own ways, obviously,’’ Trouba said Sunday. "[Miller’s] never played in Minnesota. Like, he's been around for . . . a couple years now, and you still haven't played where you're from. Those are the things, I guess, you kind of forget. It's like that with a lot of our young guys [who] have never really had the full schedule of travel, the hotels, going to different cities, that kind of thing. Which is obviously a pretty fun, interesting part of the NHL.’’
Miller told reporters he is enjoying the travel so far.
"I'm kind of looking at this second season for me is kind of a — not a new start, I want to say — but really, actually playing in the National Hockey League,’’ he said Tuesday, before the Rangers fell, 3-2, in overtime that night to the Canucks at Rogers Arena. "Last year, with all the stuff going on with COVID, and just the restrictions and stuff, [and] playing only a couple teams in your division, or whatever, [we were only] close to home. So it's a different change of pace. But I think it's going to be good. Good for our team bonding and stuff like that.’’
With some of the COVID restrictions relaxed this season, players can do things on the road they weren’t allowed to do last year, like taking part in team-building activities, going out to dinner, and even just walking around the streets of whatever city they are in. Last season, players were essentially confined to their hotel rooms on road trips.
So far, the Rangers have seemed to like playing on the road. They are 5-1-1 away from Madison Square Garden, compared to 1-1-1 at home, and they were looking even better until former Ranger J.T. Miller scored two late goals Tuesday to lead the Canucks to a comeback from a 2-0 deficit entering the third period.
J.T. Miller scored his first goal at 1:29 of the third period, then after Vasily Podkolzin’s goal tied it at 5:19, he scored the game-winner at 2:22 of the overtime, when he collected his own rebound after Igor Shesterkin saved his breakaway attempt, and circled the net to tuck in a wraparound shot.