Mike Dunham

A Look Ahead

by Jess Rubenstein

In case you missed it there was a Ranger home game this past Sunday; yea you know it was the one they beat the Senators to break a 4 game winless streak. It was a nice win to help the Rangers improve their home record to not at all bad 6-2-2-2 after 12 home games. That is the good news but now here is the bad news as the Rangers are going to be playing 14 of their next 21 games on the road where their record is a very bad 1-5-2.

For the Rangers this is going to be a very important stretch of games for them to find some way to win games not just tie them on the road. It becomes even more important when you look at the schedule and see that of these next 21 games only 4 of them are going to be against Western Conference teams. That is right 17 games against the teams that the Rangers are competing against for a playoff spot so not only are we talking about points in the standings but also season series should tiebreakers come into play down the road.

Then you got to realize that in talking about 21 games you are also talking about 25% of the NHL regular season schedule. That means the Rangers can’t simply look at this stretch and do badly as if it is something they can either live with it or make up later on. After all the Rangers have already played 20 games so this stretch actually takes them right smack to the halfway point of their schedule as the last game of this stretch will be the 41st game of the season for them.

For the Rangers so far life against fellow Eastern Conference teams hasn’t been bad with a 5-2-2-1 record, which is a huge reverse from previous years. In recent years the Rangers have royally stunk up the place when it came to playing against their peers in the east so for a change they are off to a nice start even if the wins are coming from the Canes, Pens, Habs and Senators. Sure those teams have been struggling just as much as the Rangers have but those wins in recent years have been the ones the Rangers normally lost over the past 6 years.

But one also has to realize that those games came mostly at home so now the challenge becomes to find ways to win these games on the road. If you look closer at the schedule you see a large majority of these road games as ones the Rangers can and in some cases should win. Whether or not it happens is a very different story altogether.

This run of games starts off with a 3 game in 4 night’s stretch that normally isn’t kind to the Rangers. Depending on how you look at it the toughest game in this stretch is going to be the very first one against a very good Lightning team. In some ways this is good news since the toughest part will be out of the way but at the same time a bad loss to start a road trip could put too much pressure on a team already described as extremely fragile in it’s confidence. In fact a tie here could and should be viewed as a victory given how well the Lightning has played so far.

The Rangers then face the Panthers followed by the Pens before they return home to play a “home and home” set with the Maple Leafs. To be honest the Rangers need to come away from this group of games with at least 6 points, as there is no reason why the Rangers can’t win at least 3 of these games. The Panthers and Pens are 2 teams that we all know are in worse shape than the Rangers are so there is no excuse not to win here. The Maple Leafs have been so up and down this season that the Rangers should take at least the home game from them.

The Rangers then have a road game against the Mrs. Paul’s boys from the suburbs, a home game against the Lightning before starting yet another 3 game in 4 night’s stretch against the Habs at home and the Sabres and Maple Leafs (again) on the road. In these 5 games the Rangers will need to come away with at least 6 more points to remain in the hunt for a playoff spot.

The Rangers then will get a nice 4-day break before playing Mrs. Paul’s boys at home this time, a road game against the Senators then back home for the Bruins and Maple Leafs (yet again). In this 4 game stretch it might be asking a lot for the Rangers to come away with more than 4 points but they will need to as they would be about to start their 2nd 4 game road trip of the season after the Leaf game.

The Rangers get to play yet another 3 game in 4 night’s stretch on the road for the second time during this part of the schedule as they once again start heading west. The trip starts in Phoenix, then to Los Angeles and for some strange reason then on to St Louis before finishing with the Pens. Here I believe no matter what the Rangers should be very lucky if they can come back with 2 points. In this case anything more than 2 points will be a solid victory given the stupidity of this schedule’s setup.

In all honesty the NHL scheduling computer needs to be taken out and tossed in the trash can in my book. Sending the Rangers all the way out for just one game on the west coast twice is not only a joke but for a league that is whining and sniveling about how much money they are losing makes their arguments about needing to control spending a bigger joke. Sorry about the rant but when you look at the schedule like I do, it makes you wonder how dumb the NHL is when it comes to schedule setting.

The Rangers then get to end this stretch with a home game against the Flames followed by road games against the Canes and Mrs. Paul’s boys so here the Rangers need to pick up at least 4 points to call this portion of the schedule a success.

If you have been adding up all the points as I went along then you see that I project that the Rangers must come away from this part of their schedule with at least 20 points. That would keep the Rangers at 500 or very close to it which keeps them in the race for a playoff spot. It would require the Rangers though to go no worse than 5-9 on the road portion of this stretch while winning just about every home game.

To be realistic about this the odds aren’t favoring the Rangers being able to do this kind of stretch but it is a must have for this team to entertain any hope of a playoff spot. If the Rangers become too dependent on winning only at home then they will fail to make the playoffs and it really isn’t like the Rangers are going up against the NHL elite either.

In this group of games the Rangers are going to play 12 games against teams with winning records. That is just barely half of the upcoming schedule and the Rangers have 5 of those games on home ice so really one is looking at exactly half of the road games against teams with losing records. Those then makes it very possible for the Rangers to remain hovering right around 500 which keeps them in the hunt.

If the Rangers though continue their road trip woes and match what they have done so far on the road then go ahead make your spring golfing plans early as the Rangers will have dug themselves the kind of hole they won’t come close to digging their way out of.

To put it into perspective the second half of the season is going to feature 21 of the remaining 41 games against teams with winning records. Of those 21 games 19 of them will be against teams who are currently in the top 6 in the entire NHL. In other words this is where the Rangers really do need to make their push if they have any serious intention of making the playoffs.

If they can’t win now then really can anyone actually believe they will win in the second half of the season?

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