The beginning of the Rangers regular season has obviously not gone according to plan. The Blueshirts are currently 1-5-0 and have lost three straight games. As a result fans and members of the media have strayed into the wilderness of satire and hyperbole well ahead of schedule. We’ve seen just seven percent of the Rangers regular season, but the collective patience of the Garden Faithful is already wearing thin.
The Rangers stumbling out of the starting gate is troubling for a litany of reasons. Perhaps the most distressing result of this 1-5-0 start is the Blueshirts starting with a 1-3-0 record at home. Normally that wouldn’t portend an impending apocalypse, but this season isn’t normal. And no, that isn’t a subtle allusion to Henrik Lundqvist’s age (although that is also relevant).
The Rangers play 10 of their 41 home games in the month of October and four of those games are already in the books. Thus far the Avalanche and the Devils have both handed the Rangers losses in New York. And while that would typically be seen as embarrassing for a club with playoff aspirations, dropping games at home in October could prove to be costly when the Rangers find themselves wearing white more frequently later in the season.
Is too much made of home ice advantage in the regular season? Probably, especially when one considers that the Rangers were a more successful team away from the Garden in the 2016-17 season. But that doesn’t change the fact that losses at home come riddled with negative storylines and distractions. And one can imagine that the last thing that this Rangers team needs in the locker room is another distraction.
Tonight the Rangers host the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins. It will be the second game of a six game homestand at the Garden for the Blueshirts that got off on the wrong foot with Saturday’s 3-2 loss to New Jersey. It’s also a game against a division rival that almost everyone expects the Rangers to lose. A regulation loss tonight would mean a lot more than a 1-6-0 start. It would mean a 0-3-0 start against Metropolitan Division teams and a 1-4-0 start on home ice. Those are tough numbers to put a positive spin on, even for the most even-keeled and pragmatic fan.
It’s still early; it’s still October. Teams can afford to go through growing pains, especially early in the season when so many other teams are trying to figure it out (San Jose is 1-4-0 and Montreal is 1-3-1). But the Rangers can’t afford to linger in this awkward stage much longer. There’s still tons of hockey to play, but many of those games will come with a lot hours of travel attached to them. It doesn’t matter how you cut it - the Rangers need to start winning in October.
Home games are supposed to be easier - even for a team playing in New York City. A win tonight would go a long way towards turning all of the exhausting narratives surrounding the team around. Tying together several wins at home would go even further. But as much as those victories would buoy the spirits of the team and its fans, continued mediocrity and failure will prove costly.
Not every sports fan puts stock into intangibles, and you can’t blame them. Sometimes numbers and patterns are just easier to process. But the games are played by human beings (yes, professional human beings) who are subject to frustration and other emotions. Maybe the Rangers needed to spend another few days at Lake Placid before the regular season. Maybe Alain Vigneault’s lineup decisions have been rubbing players the wrong way. Or maybe there’s a leadership void with Dan Girardi and Derek Stepan currently playing for teams in warmer climates. It’s hard to say.
What we do know is that the Rangers need to turn this around before October is in the books. There are 13 games on the schedule this month and six of them are already in the rear-view mirror - and that is where they belong. It’s time for this team and its head coach to get it together before the water gets any higher.
Tonight’s game against the defending Stanley Cup Champs provides the Rangers with a tough measuring stick. We could have a much better idea of what the Rangers really are after tonight. Hopefully, we’ll like the result.