The Rangers took their 9-5-1 record and boarded a plane for parts west yesterday morning, and this swing to Alberta will be a good test for the Rangers. They will be up against the current 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place teams in the Northwest Division, and all three currently have winning records.
For some reason, I had remembered the Rangers not playing particularly well on these west coast swings, but when I looked back at the numbers, they've been fairly average, coming in right around .500 over the last 5 seasons on these trips. But, the Rangers haven't won in Vancouver since a 6-3 win in October of 1997. I'm guessing some of us were still in elementary school then, while others didn't have quite as much snow on the roof.
Keys for the next 3 games:
Getting Henrik some rest: Only Craig Anderson of the Avalanche and Evgeny Nabokov of the Sharks have started more games than Henrik Lundqvist. This trip will be the perfect opportunity to get Stephen Valiquette between the pipes. Then we just have to hope he plays well enough to finish.
Get the forwards off the schneid: This trip could be a chance for guys like Christopher Higgins, Ryan Callahan, and Brandon Dubinsky to find their game. Sometimes it's good for players to get away from home for a few days, and get out of the spotlight.
Improve the face-offs: The Rangers have been terrible on face-offs the last 3 games, especially Brandon Dubinsky. They will need to improve in this area, but it won't be easy against the Canucks, who boast three centers well over 50% in face-off wins. (Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler, Ryan Johnson)
Stay out of the box: This one belongs in the "broken record" department, but it bears repeating. Calgary and Vancouver are 3rd and 4th in the league on the power play, and the best way to limit a power play's effectiveness is to not give them too many chances. The Rangers really need to play smart hockey, or else the Flames and Canucks will make them pay.
A little team bonding: 5 days on the road away from the distractions of home could help this team bond, maybe get the chemistry going.
After this trip, the Rangers will finally get a break, four days off before their game next Thursday night at home against Atlanta.