Rangers Aim to Take Back Road Warrior Reputation

If the Rangers are to get back to their “Kings of the Road” reputation, this watershed week would be a good time to start.

The Rangers begin a litmus test week Tuesday in Pittsburgh, then Friday in Washington – against two familiar foes, both during regular seasons and recent playoffs – then host the surprising Devils Saturday.

[Watch Rangers-Penguins Tuesday on MSG & Download Free on MSG GO]

Their schedule promises to be enormously challenging from here on in, with games coming in bunches as opposed to the relatively spread-out games to date, and even more challenging because the Rangers have played just eight of their first 26 games on the road (3-5-0).

Thus, they will play 33 of their final 56 on the road, including the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day at Citi Field, in which Buffalo is the home team.

The road has been a comfortable place for the Rangers during the Alain Vigneault era, going, 99-54-11 in his first four seasons, including a 27-12-2 record last season, by far the best in the NHL, and 28-11-2 in the Presidents’ Trophy year of ’14-15. They were 25-14-2 on the road in his first season, ’13-14, in which they reached the Stanley Cup Final.

Vigneault has often said – and he repeated it as recently as last week – that “there is no ‘home’ way to play, no ‘road’ way to play, just the ‘right’ way to play.”

But in the past, his teams have played a straight-ahead, simple, hardstyle on the road, doing the dirty work in the offensive zone to keep pucks out of their own end, and doing even dirtier work in and around the front of their own net.

They don’t seem concerned about their road record so far because they know where it went wrong.

“I think it’s all about our start,” J.T. Miller said after practice Monday. “We’ve had starts that we know could be better. That needs to start (in Pittsburgh). We need to have a good focus and good preparation, and I think we can do that.”

Certainly, the rivalries that live between the Rangers and Penguins and the Rangers and Capitals, should carry with them instant focus and motivation.

“We’re going to two fun places to play, with really good players on both teams,” Miller said. “We understand we have a job to do.

“We understand the firepower they have on both teams, so we’ve got to do a good job taking care of the puck that way they can’t get their Grade ‘A’ looks.”

A peek at the standings add another layer of desperation. Five points separate first-place Columbus from the sixth-place Rangers in the Metro Division and teams can quickly go from playoff spots to outside the playoff picture, or vice versa.

“Our division’s insane,” Marc Staal said. “It’s going to be like that all year long. So divisional games are that much more important to get points and keep trying to climb in the standings.”

Vigneault was asked if it’s advantageous to have the familiarity the Rangers have with the Penguins and Capitals. He grinned.

“Other than the fact that we know how good they are and that if we’re not on top of our game in all facets, both defensively and offensively, they could make us look real bad?” he asked.

Kevin Shattenkirk spent the last part of last season, and the playoffs, with Washington, which has a somewhat different look thanks to salary cap issues.

“We’re going to know where we are as a team after this week,” Shattenkirk said.

[Watch Rangers-Penguins Tuesday on MSG & Download Free on MSG GO]