Every game counts. If you ask me, part of the reason that allowed the Rangers to make the playoffs last season was the fact that they started the season by going 10-4-1 in their first fifteen games. 21 points in 15 games? That works out to be 1.4 points per game, and as I showed you previously that could be good enough to win the division, hands down. A start like that again would be amazing, but I'm not so sure after looking at the schedule.
With every team in the NHL having an "even" schedule, it's tough to say any one team has a blatantly easier schedule than another. With the exception of the difficulty of certain divisions, every team plays four games against each in-conference, out-of-division; along with one game against each team of the opposite conference. That leaves six games against teams from inside the division, which ultimately means that doing well inside your division will absolutely help your playoff position; but at the same time every game counts because of the in-conference games.
With that said, let's go month by month with the Rangers schedule and break down the highs, the lows, and the overall outlook. For a link to the Rangers schedule (as there is no easy way to copy/paste it in cleanly), click here.
Home Games: 7
Games against Playoff teams (from last season, obviously): 7
Multiple Opponents: Devils (home then away)
All-but-Guaranteed Win: v. Coyotes, 10/26
This Game Worries Me: v. Sharks, 10/19
The Outlook: In general, the month of October will get easier as the days go by for the Rangers. With the Pens, Devils, and Caps all on slate within the first week, the Rangers will no doubt be tested early. The end of the month, however, could be a nice three-game win-streak in the making starting with the Coyotes at home followed by the Fishsticks and Wild.
Home Games: 6
Games against Playoff teams: 7
All-but-Guaranteed Win: v. Thrashers, 11/12
This Game Worries Me: at Vancouver, 11/3
The Outlook: If the Rangers can survive the beginning and end of November, then all should be golden. In the middle of the month the Rangers play five out of seven games against Southeast Division opponents, which only includes the Caps once. The Rangers swing to Northwest Canada early in the month, and then wrap the month up with a fun home and home against the Pens.
Home Games: 7
Games against Playoff teams: 6
All-but-Guaranteed Win: v. Sabres, 12/12
This Game Worries Me: at Chicago 12/9
The Outlook: December will be a key month for the Rangers to pick up precious points going into January (you'll see why). With the exception of the Wings, Blackhawks, and Flyers, the Rangers will play games that in all honesty they should win. After the Hawks on December 9th, the Rangers (in my book) are expected to get points in the standings out of every game, including the Flyers.
Home Games: 9
Games against playoff teams: 10
All-but-Guaranteed Win: v. Lightning, 1/19
This Game Worries Me: at Bruins, 1/9 (1 PM)
The Outlook: As I run down the list for the first month of the new year I see only four to five games in which I feel the Rangers should absolutely win. In my opinion, anything over 8 wins would be fantastic for the club, and that should be obtainable if they are playing generally well. The Blueshirts go west to finish out the month with visits to the Coyotes and Avalanche, which should hopefully end the month on a high note.
Home Games: 4
Games against Playoff teams: 3
Multiple Opponents: none
All-but-Guaranteed Win: v. Lightning, 2/14
This Game Worries Me: at Kings, 2/2
The Outlook: The Rangers could head into the Olympic Break hot if things fall their way. Out of the six games, I feel the Rangers should beat the Predators, Lightning, and one of our division rivals (Pens or Devils). The Kings game worries me because in general the Rangers were not good on the road last season; not to mention the great young talent of the Kings playing well at home.
Home Games: 6
Games against Playoff teams: 8
Multiple Opponents: Devils (both away), Islanders (home then away)
All-but-Guaranteed Win: at Thrashers, 3/12
This Game Worries Me: at Senators, 3/2
The Outlook: March gets the number 2 spot in terms of difficulty by month for this year's schedule. With quality opponents and many road games, the Rangers would do themselves well to pull off seven or eight wins depending on their play. The Senators worry me as I think they will squeak into playoffs this year, so they will be fighting for their life.
Home Games: 2
Games against Playoff teams: 2
Multiple Opponents: Flyers (home then away)
All-but-Guaranteed Win: at Lightning, 4/2
This Game Worries Me: v. Maple Leafs, 4/7
The Outlook: Good news; the Rangers have a pretty easy end to the season. Bad news; it's basically all away from Manhattan. The three game road-trip to start April will be a key opportunity to pick up points and solidify (hopefully) a playoff position. The Leafs game worries me as I think the Leafs will be eliminated around this point, so they could play the spoilers role. I think the Rangers will win their final home game against the Flyers, but will drop the season finale on Sunday.
Like I said, no team in the NHL has a blatantly easier schedule than another. The Rangers have a very balanced schedule for the first three months, and then go into a roller coaster ride that should be a tough January and March but an easier February and April. The big road trip comes at the end of March into April (six games), which could be good because the opponents aren't the best; but bad because the Rangers could be fighting for a spot in the East once again.
Are you as worried about January and March as I am? What stretch of the season do you find most concerning or encouraging? Think scheduling doesn't mean a thing? Let's hear it.