The New York Rangers head out on a tough four-game West Coast trip. The results could determine if the Rangers ultimately become sellers as the trade deadline approaches.The Colorado Avalanche, Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks and the San Jose Sharks. These are the opponents the New York Rangers will have to face beginning this afternoon in Colorado. No easy task for any team, but with the way the Rangers have played recently, this could be a season-turning event.
The road trip will take the Rangers to the NHL All-Star Break. Following the game at San Jose on Thursday, Jan. 25, the Rangers won’t be on the ice again until Feb. 1 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. If things don’t turn out well next week, the Rangers team may have a completely different look when they return to action.
Here is what the Blueshirts are up against.
Saturday, Jan. 20-The Colorado Avalanche
The Avalanche are lead by Nathan MacKinnon with 54 points and Mikko Rantanen with 41 points. They are 25-16-3 overall and have a home record of 14-7-1 as Colorado sits in sixth place in the Western Conference. The Avalanche are fighting to get into playoff position as they are two points behind the Los Angeles Kings for the second Wild Card position in the Western Conference standings. These two teams met previously on opening night at MSG where the Avalanche defeated the Rangers 4-2.
Sunday, Jan. 21-Los Angeles Kings
The Rangers always have a tough time with the Kings and this game will be no different. The Kings are currently in the second Wild Card position in the Western Conference. Anze Kopitar leads the team in scoring with 45 points, 18 goals, and 27 helpers.
The Kings are 25-16-5 with an 11-9-3 record at home. They are being chased by the formerly mentioned Colorado Avalanche for the last Wild Card spot, yet only one point away from second place. The Rangers were defeated by the Kings 4-2 at MSG on Dec. 15.
Tuesday, Jan. 23-Anaheim Ducks
The Rangers then head to Anaheim to face the Ducks, who currently stand on the outside of the playoff window looking in. Rickard Rakell, 16 goals, 17 assist 33 points and Ryan Getzlaf, with 22 assists, 26 points lead the Ducks in scoring. The Ducks have an overall record of 21-16-9 with a home record of 11-8-3. The Rangers defeated the Ducks at MSG on Dec. 19 by a score of 4-1.
Thursday, Jan. 25-San Jose Sharks
The Rangers conclude their trip in San Jose as they take on the second-place Sharks. 24-13-6 overall, the Sharks are 11-7-4 at home this season and are lead by defenseman Brent Burns, seven goals, 27 assists for 34 points. Logan Couture, 17 goals, 15 assists for 32 points, leads all forwards. The Sharks defeated the Rangers at the Garden on Oct. 23 by the score of 4-1.
What would be considered a successful road trip?
The success of a four-game road trip varies by who, you ask? I believe the Rangers need to get at least six points out of their trip. The Rangers could get six points the conventional way, by winning three out of the four games in regulation, an overtime win or a shootout win. They could win two games in regulation and lose two games in overtime or a shootout, which is the tough way to get to six points and would still leave some doubt in their overall play.
A key factor to this road trip is the team’s home records. All four teams aren’t “lights out” good at home. Should the Rangers play their speed and forechecking style of hockey they have a great chance to get six points on this road trip.
The Rangers had been struggling scoring goals recently, but in their wins over Philadelphia, 5-1, and Buffalo, 4-3, this week, the Rangers might have found their scoring ways. Rick Nash who had gone 12 games without a goal, has recorded four goals in the two games. The defense has been playing better, though the team will be without Marc Staal for at least the first two games on the trip due to a hip flexor injury.
Based on how Alain Vigneault has used Henrik Lundqvist this season, you would expect Hank to play in three if not all four of the games on the trip. The Rangers have a week off following the San Jose game because of the All-Star break, but Henrik will be playing in the skill’s competition and in the All-Star game itself. Rest assured Vigneault is not going to be concerned with Hanks playing time next weekend in Tampa, Fl.
The Rangers need to start winning games now, being on the road can sometimes bond a team unlike when they play at home. If the Rangers want to keep the current lineup intact and save their head coach’s job, wins will be the key factor.
With the trade deadline five weeks away, at the conclusion of the Sharks game, the Rangers, the organization and the fans will have a much better idea if this is the team to head towards the playoffs or if the Rangers become sellers as the trade deadline approaches.
Considering the contract status of such players as Rick Nash, Michael Grabner, Nick Holden and Ondrej Pavelec the Rangers need to know where they are heading come April and next season.
It does feel like everyone is talking about the playoffs a lot earlier this year. The NHL Trade Deadline is Feb. 26. Sellers, buyers or stay the course, the Rangers will have a better idea of who they are in the next week.
With any luck, maybe we will have a team ready to take on the NHL and its Stanley Cup Playoffs.