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California Road Trip a Tough Test for Inconsistent Rangers

I wish they all could be not California gaaaames.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Wednesday: 10:30 PM EST, vs the Anaheim Ducks

Ducks Home Record: 21-8-5

Last Ten Games: 7-2-1

Even Strength CF%: 53.1 (second in league)

Even Strength PDO: 99.55

Thursday: 10:30 PM, vs the Los Angeles Kings

Kings Home Record: 21-11-2

Last Ten Games: 7-2-1

Even Strength CF%: 56.1 (first in league)

Even Strength PDO: 98.12

Saturday: 4:00 PM, vs the San Jose Sharks

Sharks Home Record: 13-15-3

Last Ten Games: 6-3-1

Even Strength CF%: 51.0 (13th in league)

Even Strength PDO: 100.36

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New York Rangers

Rangers Road Record: 16-15-4

Last Ten Games: 5-4-1

Even Strength CF%: 47.6 (23rd in league)

Even Strength PDO: 102.64 (sweet baby jebus)

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Yeah, this week could really be a rough one for the Rangers. The Blueshirts earned just one point (an overtime loss) in their last two games and have been dominated in possession recently. The return of Henrik Lundqvist and Rick Nash had fans and analysts understandably excited, but the debut of Eric Staal and Nash paired together combined with Lundqvist's perpetual magic was not enough to get the Rangers a win over either the Red Wings or the Penguins.

Gordon Bombay might be able to get something out of this road trip for the Rangers, but he was last heard as the voice of  Mr. Winterbottom in a made-for-TV Christmas movie in 2012 (check the IMDB, yo). The man behind the bench for the Rangers remains the gum-punishing Alain Vigneault who has left a lot to be desired in his third season despite the anomalous hot start to 2015-16 that has helped the Rangers enjoy, at least for the moment, being spectators to the wildcard race in the Eastern Conference.

But if things don't turn around quickly for Vigneault and the Rangers, they could soon find themselves in the fracas battling for their playoff lives and a wildcard spot. A record of 5-4-1 in their last ten games just isn't good enough with the Islanders, Penguins, and Flyers all battling for a place in the 2016 Playoffs. The injury to Evgeni Malkin will be a big help, but it does not make the Rangers a better team. It just helps to ensure that they'll remain in the playoff picture with just 13 games remaining in the regular season.

Facing the Ducks, Kings, and Sharks in three consecutive road games this week will either be the most recent exposure of just how fortunate the Rangers are to be where they are today in the standings, or it could be the gauntlet that they have needed to bring their game to the next level. Playing against dominant possession teams like Los Angeles and Anaheim in consecutive nights could be downright excruciating to watch, but it might also bring out the best in the Rangers... or, more likely, continue to make "PDO" the three letters that continue to define this team.

Now that all the key players are healthy, outside of Derick Brassard who is recovering the flu, it's time for the Rangers to start playing more intelligent and consistent hockey. That starts in the head of the head coach and on the dry erase board in the locker room. Expecting better deployment of the team's burdensome players would be hoping for too much, but what we can and should expect is for the team to better assimilate and utilize deadline acquisition Eric Staal. Individual performances need to start getting better and more consistent if the team is to enter the postseason playing confident and/or excellent hockey.

The next three games will be a huge test for the Rangers and they could tell us a great deal about what the team's chances are after the regular season expires with their current roster and with Vigneault behind the bench. Getting four points out of the next three days would be, according to many, miraculous and a pleasant surprise. That should not be the case for a playoff team that is in "win now" mode and were once again buyers on deadline day. The New York Rangers need to start playing better hockey in a hurry and their brutal road trip into California would be a great time to start.