The New York Rangers must take advantage of these next two months, to avoid a race to the finish for a playoff spot that can cause late season fatigue.
The New York Rangers have had some tough stretches this season, whether it be from injuries plaguing their roster, facing a hot team at the wrong time, or even having a rough travel schedule.
December was not an easy month of travel for the Rangers, moving from Winnipeg to Chicago, Nashville to Dallas, and Arizona to Colorado, all while making trips back to Madison Square Garden in between.
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In that time, the team put up an outstanding 10-4 record, despite surrendering seven goals in consecutive games to the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Minnesota Wild. Those two blowout losses were enough to spark doubts of the Rangers being serious contenders in the East, but the circumstances of travel and injury are commonly ignored.
That is all about to change in the months of January and February, as the Rangers will benefit from several players coming back from injury in the midst of an extremely light travel schedule.
The Rangers kick off 2017 with a home game against Buffalo, where they will then go two weeks only having to travel as far as Columbus. In those 14 days, the team will have nine days away from game action, in which five of those off days are consecutive following their game against the Blue Jackets.
If the Rangers can pick up a win against Columbus or the Montreal Canadiens In this time, barring there are no more injuries or setbacks in their current roster, it would put them in a great position to take on some tougher teams with Rick Nash and Mika Zibanejad returning.
In the latter half of January, the Rangers will play four of six games at home, while only having to travel as far Detroit and Toronto for their two road games. It is also worth noting that the Rangers will play their final game of January against the current league-best Blue Jackets, a game in which Pavel Buchnevich is projected to be healthy for.
The Rangers are more than capable of winning a majority of January’s games, with Columbus currently being the only outlier.
February could prove to be the easiest month for the Rangers, as they start off the first three weeks of the month playing only one game outside the state of New York. In that span, the Rangers will have a four-game home span, facing all Western Conference opponents that the Metropolitan division has dominated this season.
The rest of February sees the Rangers furthest road game in Toronto, supplemented by a game in New Jersey against a struggling Devils team.
Out of the 13 games the Rangers play in February, none of them will be played on back-to-back nights and 10 of them will be played in the state of New York.
The Following Months
From March until playoff season is where the Rangers schedule takes a turn for the worst, traveling up and down the Atlantic coast, as well as spending a significant amount of time on the west coast.
These later months can also start to wear at players with less NHL experience, such as Buchnevich or Jimmy Vesey.
For Buchnevich, playing in the KHL last season, he is used to playoffs beginning at the end of February and ending in April, rather than starting in April like the NHL does. For Vesey, playing in the NCAA last year, his season started later and finished earlier than the NHL, making for no surprise if he struggles later in Rangers schedule.
While these athletes are conditioned to take on the hardships of a long, travel-packed NHL season, the Rangers have an outstanding opportunity to take advantage of their light travel schedule in the months of January and February, supplemented by major returns from injury.