In the New York Rangers‘ first 26 games of the 2013-14 season, only nine have come at home. Renovations to Madison Square Garden forced the team to play their first nine games on the road. Their last five games were on the road, as well. Despite probably the wildest schedule you’ll ever see, the Rangers stand third in the Metropolitan Division and 8th in the Eastern Conference with a 13-13-0 record. The month of December presents a golden opportunity for the Rangers, as they will play 11 out of their next 12 games at home. It is critical they take advantage.
Analyzing the schedule, at least seven of the Rangers’ next 12 games are winnable. This means in order for this slate to be a success they need to earn a minimum 14 out of a possible 24 points. Anything less would not spell disaster but a major missed opportunity. Here are the opponents the Rangers will face considered “winnable”: the Winnipeg Jets, the Buffalo Sabres (in the only road game of the stretch), the Nashville Predators, the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Calgary Flames, the Minnesota Wild and the New York Islanders. Nearly each team is either at or near the bottom of their division or conference. The exception is Minnesota, but this game is considered winnable because as both teams boast similar styles of play so the Rangers are capable of matching the Wild toe-to-toe for 60 minutes.
From the players’ standpoint, it is the last stand for players like Michael Del Zotto, Benoit Pouliot and Taylor Pyatt. Each player has struggled mightily this season. If they don’t step up their game in such a critical time of the season they may not be wearing the Rangers uniform by the time they hit the road again December 27.
The homestand is also an opportunity for Henrik Lundqvist to shake off his inconsistent start. Rounding into his perennial Vezina Trophy form on a night-in, night-out basis will allow the Rangers not only to improve in the standings but on the ice as well. Expect the King to break out this coming month.
Since there is still a long way to go this season, and it is unfair to say whether or not this homestand will make or break the Rangers’ season. However, should they end up missing the playoffs by a point or two, a failure to take advantage of this schedule could end up being the top reason. Many folks argue that home-ice advantage doesn’t matter in hockey. For the Rangers in 11 out of their next 12 games, it certainly does.