The road, in particular a season-opening nine-game road trip, was thought by many to be the Rangers’ early season nemesis, but as New York (10-11-0, 20 pts) begins a stretch of five straight away from Madison Square Garden Thursday night against the Dallas Stars (11-7-2, 24 pts) it has become clear that the team has embraced the challenges of winning on the road and has achieved some of its more impressive successes so far in enemy territory. With stops in Dallas, Nashville, Tampa, Florida, and Boston awaiting over the next nine days, the Rangers are riding a four-game winning streak on the road and have played .500 hockey (6-6-0) away from home ice.
The Rangers did lose four of their first five, and six of their first eight, road contests this season, and were embarrassed by their play out in San Jose and Anaheim, but they turned things around with a 3-2 overtime win over the Red Wings out in Detroit on October 26th—and have since followed with road victories on Long Island three nights later, in Columbus two weeks ago, and in Montreal last Saturday.
While each of those road wins was impressive in their own right, the ones in Detroit and Montreal stand out due to the tenacious, near-desperate, effort exhibited by the Rangers as the visiting team. Of course the fact that the Rangers had not won in Montreal since the 2008-09 season makes that 1-0 victory Saturday step to the forefront, as well.
Their six road wins are tied for most among all Eastern Conference teams; and the Rangers' road success hopefully marks a return to how it played away from The Garden the three seasons prior to last year. Beginning in 2009-10 the Rangers won 20, 24, and 24 games on the road, and in 2011-12 the team owned a 24-12-5 road mark, good for a franchise-record 53 points away from MSG. Last season, though, the Rangers slipped to 10-12-2 on the road during the lockout-shortened campaign.
Despite their recent road success, the Rangers begin this road trip having lost three of their last four games overall—with all three losses coming on home ice where the Blueshirts are just 4-5-0 on the season. The main reason for the lack of wins the past week or so is an inability to score. The Rangers have scored just four goals in their last four games, none at even strength in their past three. Each of their last two goals---one in Tuesday’s 2-1 defeat to the Bruins and the other in Saturday’s 1-0 victory over the Canadiens---have come on the power play. However in the last four games the Rangers have poured 35, 33, 37, and 44 shots on goal—outshooting and outchancing the opposition each game by a wide-margin, just without the reward of actually finishing their chances.
However as Brad Richards pointed out Wednesday after practice, earlier in the season the Rangers were having troubles scoring AND generating scoring opportunities. Now their overall games is quite good at both ends of the ice, they are just not putting the puck in the net. Richards, Ryan Callahan, and Alain Vigneault are among those the past few days who have pointed out that as long as the team is playing this way and this well, the goals---and more wins---will come.
Vigneault said Wednesday that Michael Del Zotto will return to the lineup Thursday night in Dallas. Del Zotto, who has not displayed much consistency in his game according to the head coach, was scratched the previous three contests, with Vigneault hoping a fire is ignited in the 23 year-old defenseman similar to what happened when Mats Zuccarello was scratched earlier in the season. Del Zotto, who is 1-3-4 in 16 games, will take the place of either Justin Falk---who played the last three games after being scratched 11 in a row, or John Moore—who is 1-2-3 while playing in all 21 games to date this year.
Dallas comes off a perfect 3-0-0 road trip, and has won six of its last seven games overall, though interestingly they are winless in their last three contests at American Airlines Center (0-1-2). The Stars last win on home ice was a 5-1 victory over the Calgary Flames on October 24th, and Dallas is just 3-2-2 at home so far this season.
Impressive rookie Alex Chiasson may be forced to miss Thursday's game for the Stars. Chiasson was struck in the face with a puck during practice Wednesday. Head coach Lindy Ruff, in his first year with Dallas after his long run as coach of the Buffalo Sabres, said afterwards he was concerned about Chiasson, but did not have an update on his condition. Chiasson has had a terrifc rookie campaign so far, tied for third among all NHL first year players with 12 points (5-7-12) in 20 games.
Veteran Ray Whitney, who has been out injured the past three games, did practice on Wednesday and Ruff said he will be a game time decision against the Rangers. The 41 year-old Whitney, who has 1,040 points in 1,278 career games, has scored only one goal in 17 games played this season.
Henrik Lundqvist, 3-3-0 with a 1.99 career GAA against Dallas, is expected to face Kari Lehtonen in quite the goaltending matchup on Thursday night.