Can these Rangers continue to be “Road Warriors”?
It has long been said that for a team to be successful, they need to play at or above .600 at home and .500 on the road. In NHL circles, if a team were to do that they would have around 88 points or better. During the 2013-14 season though, the New York Rangers did the opposite. The Rangers were a average with a 20-17-4 record at home. On the road however, they posted their best record in franchise history at 25-14-2.
What makes their road record more fascinating is that they started the season off with 4 straight road losses and were 9-8 on the road after two months. From December 1st until the regular season ended, the Rangers posted a16-6-2 road record – most of which was accomplished during the NHL “dog days” of December, January and February. In fact, the Rangers had the best road record in the Eastern Conference and trailed only the Colorado Avalanche who posted a record of 26-11-4.
So with that said, can the Rangers continue their road dominance this season? First of all, when you have a world class goalie in Henrik Lundqvist, anything is possible. Each time Lundqvist is between the pipes, there is a good chance the Rangers come away with the “W”.
Taking a look at Lundqvist’s career stats (including the first six games this season), he has played in 266 career regular season road games and has posted a record of 137-95-30 with a GAA of 2.42 and save percentage of .919. His home record during that same time span is 314 games played with a record of 176-102-32 with a .921 save percentage and 2.14 GAA.
Last season, he posted a road record of 17-10-1 with a .914 save percentage and 2.65 GAA. At home he was a more modest 16-14-4, but did post a better save percentage – .926 – and GAA 2.13. Based on those numbers alone, the Rangers look like their road winning ways can continue provided Lundqvist remains healthy.
Second, Head Coach Alain Vigneault’s pressure system is one that can thrive on the road. Teams tend to be more carefree when they play on the road. Chances seem to be taken more as the fear of fan backlash is lessened. Putting a home team on its heels by pressuring the puck can put the home team’s fans on edge thereby making them play tight. This can lead to errant passes, forced turnovers and great opportunities to put the biscuit in the basket. The Rangers have transitioned to the right personnel to play this type of hockey yet still be defensively responsible.
Next, the Rangers have some shut down defensive stalwarts on the roster. Most teams are lucky to have one defensive pairing they feel comfortable with on the ice. The Rangers have an elite pairing with Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh to go with a great second pairing of Dan Boyle (when he returns) and Marc Staal. The Rangers third pairing is solid with John Moore and Kevin Klein to round out one of the best defensive 6 in the game.
Up front, the Rangers have enough youth mixed with experienced veterans to continue to get the job done on the road. Rick Nash, Martin St. Louis, Dominic Moore, Lee Stempniak , Derek Stepan, provide leadership up front so that there’s little chance that they get rattled or intimidated playing on the road.
Young players such as Carl Hagelin, Chris Kreider, Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello have benefited from the long run the Rangers have had in the playoffs. Having been through those battles have polished and poised them beyond their years.
Lastly, even though the Rangers played under .500 in the playoffs last season on the road (6-7), the experiences they went through benefited them greatly. When things were at their bleakest during the Penguin series, the Rangers took 3 of 4 on the road in Pittsburgh. Winning a series like that can only instill confidence in a team.
Players can point to that specific set of circumstances when things are down – as they will be at some time during a long NHL season – and know that they can win even in the most hostile of environments. They are battle tested and ready to achieve playoff success.
Another thing to remember when looking at last year’s 6-7 road record, 3 of those losses came against the champion Kings in overtime.
In conclusion, there is no doubt in this writer’s mind that the Rangers can continue to dominate on the road and continue what they started last season. Being an upper echelon team requires them to do so.
Everyone in the Rangers organization – fans included – would love to see them mirror their road dominance at home. At this early stage of the season, the Rangers have played 3 road games and are 2-1. An opening night road win against St. Louis was a good start but not the type of play that was expected. A poorly played loss to Columbus followed but a thrilling OT victory over their arch rival New Jersey Devils at the Rock showed how the Rangers can bounce back and regain the form they had established last season.
In the end though, as all Rangers fans know, it will more or less all come down to The King and his staying healthy. He has given no indication that he is slowing down so there is every reason to feel they will be Road Warriors once again.