Okay, so a 19-14-2 record on home ice might not be ghastly, but a team like the New York Rangers that strives to be a Stanley Cup contender needs to do better than that.
However, that might be an apt word to describe the club’s most recent stretch at Madison Square Garden. With Saturday night’s convincing 4-1 home defeat to the Montreal Canadiens, the Rangers are now 0-3-1 in their past four home contests. They will need to find more consistency under the bright lights of MSG if they plan on making noise in the postseason.
A Persistent Problem
The Rangers’ past three home losses have all been lopsided defeats, as they have been outscored by a combined margin of 13-4. The losses have come at the hands of playoff teams in the Habs, the Washington
Shattenkirks Capitals, and the Columbus Blue Jackets. That’s not a good sign for a club trying to break into that upper echelon of true championship contenders.
Thankfully for the Rangers, they have negated their lack of a true home-ice advantage by posting a stellar 22-8-0 mark on the road. In the playoffs, though, against top-notch competition, the importance of taking care of business at home escalates.
Lundqvist: “Obviously, if we want to go anywhere, we need to figure it out at home.”
— Steve Zipay (@stevezipay) March 5, 2017
Strangely, the Rangers’ struggles at home are not entirely new. While they posted an excellent home record of 27-10-4 last season, they were actually better on the road in each of the two prior seasons.
Their inability to step up at home cost them what would have been a second consecutive trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014-15. In the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning that season, the Rangers won two of the three games in Tampa, outscoring the Lightning 17-10 over those three contests. At home, however, the club lost three of four, including a pivotal Game 5 with the series tied 2-2, and then of course the deciding Game 7. Both of those games were 2-0 shutouts.
Getting blanked at home in two straight contests with so much on the line is inexcusable. Sadly for the Rangers, those home struggles have remained persistent over the past couple of years. With two more playoff losses on home ice last season, the Rangers have lost five straight postseason games at the Garden. So far this regular season, their struggles have continued. If they do not put an end to this trend in this year’s playoffs, they will likely be going home early.
Why the Struggles?
It’s difficult to pinpoint a clear reason why the Rangers continue to struggle at home in spite of solid play on the road. Perhaps the pressure of playing in a storied arena and city is greater than the pressure of playing in a road building, where there can often be more of a “nothing to lose” attitude. To that end, the burden of high expectations could be playing a role. Perhaps there’s a vicious cycle whereby past struggles creep into the minds of players whenever things start to go south. Maybe they feel like they should have an advantage so they overcomplicate their game instead of keeping things simple like they often do on the road.
Forced passes, no forecheck … this is why they struggle at home. Fancy-boy hockey.
— Rick Carpiniello (@RickCarpiniello) March 5, 2017
Whatever the reason, the Rangers need to fix it quickly. They need to approach the game the same way. Head coach Alain Vigneault might say that the Rangers play the same way at home and on the road, but the evidence does not exist to support that claim.
AV says all the time that the Rangers play the same way, home or away. They most certainly do not.
— Rick Carpiniello (@RickCarpiniello) March 3, 2017
To get back on track at home, the Rangers need to get back to basics. That means making clean passes out of their own zone without always forcing a stretch pass, forechecking aggressively, and battling hard along the boards to win more one-on-one battles. Doing those things effectively generally opens up opportunities for their high level of skill to shine through. For them, hopefully another home loss to a potential first-round playoff opponent has opened their eyes to the tweaks needed in their game on Garden ice.