The New York Rangers proved last week that their 2-6 start to the season was a bit of a fluke. This week, they must prove that three straights wins wasn’t.
To do so, they’ll have to beat either Anaheim, who comes to the Garden Monday night, or Pittsburgh, who’s in town on Wednesday. They finish the week with games against Columbus and Florida, but it is how they fare against two of the League’s best that will define just how far the Rangers have come.
For though last week was certainly a big step forward – and their level of play, not the results, render that true – the fact is the Rangers did what was expected of them. They responded to coming home by playing inspired hockey, and chalked up a trio of wins against three very beatable teams. Their one loss of the week came against Montreal, the only team out of the four with more wins right now than the Rangers.
So while Alain Vingeault’s club certainly played better, they didn’t put all of their early season demons behind them. They may have climbed out of the Metropolitan Division basement, but they’re still a long way from the top. If Pittsburgh and Anaheim represent the aristocracy of the league, the Rangers are still the proletariat.
The NHL is a democratic society though, and this week the Rangers get a shot at the upper class. Pittsburgh and Anaheim rank 1st and 2nd in their respective conferences, and have racked up goals at a Blackhawk-ian rate. Alone, they have as many wins (22) as the Metropolitan’s bottom five teams combined, and three more than New York’s competition last week.
One of those wins for Anaheim, of course, came at the expense of the Rangers, who were throttled by the Ducks back in early October. It was the second humiliating loss in row for the Blueshirts, who looked a lot like a peewee B team playing the Bantam A’s. So if the Rangers are in the interest of exorcising demons, a little revenge against Anaheim would be a good place to start.
As for the Penguins, the Rangers haven’t seem them yet this year. But Pittsburgh owned the Rangers last year, even if one 6-1 New York win skews the numbers somewhat. If there’s little for the Rangers to prove in the way of growth, there’s certainly plenty for them to demonstrate in the way of change. This year’s team needs to show the divisional juggernaut they won’t roll over so easily when these two sides meet.
Realistically, the Rangers should be happy with one win between this week’s first two games. It doesn’t mean they shouldn’t strive for two, but there comes a point when success must be measured on a relative scale. The Rangers, regardless of what they did last week, are a 6-7 team, and 6-7 teams don’t often beat 11-win teams in back-to-back games.
Ultimately they want to reach a point where they don’t qualify success. Where terms like “all things considered…” and “given that…” don’t come into play. Where a win is good and a loss is bad, no matter who’s on the other side of the ice. It’s a black-and-white world, and it’s where the best teams live.
To get there, the Rangers need to beat some of the established residents. And thanks to democracy, they’ll have a shot at Anaheim and Pittsburgh on their home turf. They can’t displace these two teams by any means, whose property in this higher world is well established, but they can start laying down some of their own.
With their wheels finally moving forward, with their tires finally gaining traction, the Rangers get the Big Guys when you want them most. Let’s see what last week means. Let’s see if they measure up now. Let’s just see how far they’ve come.