Make that three wins in a row for the New York Rangers, and nine in their past 12 games, after a 4-1 win over their crosstown rivals from Long Island Friday night. When February flips on tomorrow, the Rangers will be alone in second place in the Metropolitan Division, which is a long-distance laugh away from where they were three months ago after their first home game of the season.
When the Rangers hosted the Montreal Canadiens Oct. 28, they were the last team in the NHL to play a game at home. In fact, every other club had played at least three in its own barn by that day. Yet with their fans starving for some home cooking, the Rangers looked every bit homesick after nearly a month on the road and lost 2-0.
That left them 3-7-0 in the first 10 games of the season, just one point ahead of the Buffalo Sabres for last in the league, and looking completely out of sorts under new coach Alain Vigneault. Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the continent, their former coach John Tortorella had his new team out to a 9-4-1 start and sitting near the top of the NHL.
Since then, however, the Rangers have gone 27-16-3 – the second-best mark in the Eastern Conference behind only the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Any number of reasons could explain New York’s slow start – adapting to a new coach with a different system, Henrik Lundqvist’s dragging contract negotiations, Rick Nash’s concussion in Game 3 – but stick to Occam’s razor and rationale is obvious: the Rangers simply stank away from Madison Square Garden. The road is rough place to be at the best of times, but starting a season with a nine-game trip is a surefire way to snuff out any hope of a hot start.
What didn’t kill them, though, has made the Rangers stronger. Their road record since that nine-gamer is 15-4-0. And if it weren’t for their outstandingly average home record (13-13-3), the Rangers would be trying to chase down the Penguins for top spot in the Metro instead of being forced to run away from the rest of the pack just to secure a playoff spot.
A slow start in October can often bury a team before the coffin even closes, but the Rangers have made their way back into the pack after repairing the road woes that had could have left them behind for good.
Ronnie Shuker is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. Follow him on Twitter at @THNRonnieShuker. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.