With the NHL’s release of each team’s 56-game schedule, the reality that the New York Rangers will have to endure a never-ending gauntlet of talented rosters during the 2020-21 season is unnerving. When the battle of New York commences on January 14, 2021, at Madison Square Garden, it will have been 163 days since the Rangers last suited up for an NHL game.
There is no preseason to ease their way back into action and a short 10-day training camp to get the wheels turning. Head coach David Quinn and company certainly have their work cut out for them, but the energy that will be garnered from two straight tilts against the Islanders to open up the season will bump both sides into shape.
All eyes are fixed on January 14, but the season opener is just one important date on the Rangers’ schedule. When taking a deeper dive, one can see the intricacies of certain stretches, three of which have the potential to make or break the Rangers season.
Eight games against the New York Islanders. Eight games against the New Jersey Devils. Eight games against the Philadelphia Flyers. The season may only be 56 games and 115 days long, but my oh my, is it going to be jam-packed with exciting moments and heated battles. So let’s dive into some of the key stretches the Rangers will have this season.
And They’re Off: January 14 – January 28
The old hockey cliche, “We have to get off to a good start,” will be put to the test in a shortened season. Three rivalry games out of the gate plus four meetings split between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres make a good start challenging for the Rangers.
Yet if the Rangers want to be relevant down the stretch in 2020-21, they have to take care of business early and often. This season’s tone will be set by the first two games, as Rangers vs. Islanders brings out the best in both franchises. The Devils and Sabres are talented, but they seem to be the weakest links in a strong division, making winning those meetings crucial.
It won’t be easy, but there is a chance for the Rangers to get out of the gate fast, putting pressure on their rivals to play catch-up over the course of this season.
February Fury: February 10 – February 28
Two teams who have had the Rangers’ number in past seasons, primarily during the 2019-20 season, were the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers. During this stretch, the Rangers start with two games against Boston before a two-game battle with Philly. They then head to Washington to play the Capitals twice, play the Flyers once more, capping things off with two more meetings with the Bruins.
These nine matchups each will be pivotal in the standings, especially since the Rangers’ three opponents are all favorites to make the playoffs out of this division. The Rangers were a combined 0-5-1 against the Bruins and Flyers in 2019-20, a pattern they need to break if they want to succeed this season.
The only saving grace is that the meetings between the Blueshirts and the two franchises who were their kryptonite last season are sandwiched around two meetings with the Capitals, a team, the Rangers, went 2-1 against. But that was all in the past, and a unique season such as the 2020-21 campaign will surely bring surprises.
Maybe the tides turn, and the Rangers can right their past misdoings against these three foes.
Rivalry Road: April 9 – April 20
When you think of the Rangers’ two biggest rivals, you needn’t look far. The tri-state area is home to three teams, none of which are too fond of the others. And over this 12-day stretch, the Rangers play only two teams; the Islanders and Devils.
Starting with back-to-back road games against the Islanders, the Rangers will then play four straight against the Devils before capping it off with a final orange and blue clash. Not only is this stretch daunting, but the ferociousness of these players will surely shine through after seeing their arch-rivals seven straight times.
Last season, the Blueshirts managed a 3-1 record against the Islanders and a 2-2 mark against the Devils. Each game had its own unique twists and turns, a trend that will only be exaggerated by eight meetings each in 2020-21. For the Rangers to make a playoff push this upcoming campaign, they will have to take the season series from both their rivals.
It’s a much easier said task than done, especially when you throw in a brutal stretch like this one. If the Rangers cannot find a way to power through these seven games, it will be an uphill climb towards the East’s top four.
The Final Five: May 1 – May 8
It’s always important to close out a season strong, but that task may be difficult for the Rangers. Their final five matchups are against the Islanders, Capitals (twice), and Bruins (twice). Although there are no easy games on the schedule this season, finishing against this trio is not what David Quinn had envisioned.
There seems to be a team you dread playing against around every corner on this schedule for the Rangers, with three of them appearing at the end of the season. Suppose the playoffs are within reach, and they must win four of the final five games to clinch a birth in the postseason. Well, that becomes extraordinarily difficult considering their opponents.
This isn’t unfamiliar ground for the Rangers, who finished seventh in a loaded Metropolitan Division in 2019-20 when their 79 points would have put them in fourth in every other NHL division. It seems as though the disparity in talent level amongst the North, West, and Central is exponentially higher than the East, a situation which makes the Rangers’ road a difficult one.
The schedule is a grind, but the youthful Rangers are optimistic they can make a run, one which will culminate in their success or failure during these stretches this season.
Brendan Azoff is a THW contributor and podcast host dedicated to covering the New York Rangers. His passion for hockey started when he first laced up the skates at three, growing into his love for writing and talking about the greatest sport in the world. His podcast, The Backcheck, breaks down the Rangers, Islanders, and NHL news and can be found on The Hockey Writers Podcast Network and Belly Up Sports. Brendan has been writing about the Rangers and the NHL for over two years, with his content also found on Puck Prose, Blue Line Station, and E2G Sports. If you want to connect with Brendan and stay up-to-date on his posts, follow him on Twitter. He is always available for content ideas and interviews, don’t be afraid to ask!