Rangers Need To Salvage Road Trip

I was talking with Rick Nash last week about the Rangersfour-game Western road trip.

We discussed how, very often, this type of trek can be just what a team needs – to be together for a long stretch with nothing on the agenda but team-bonding and hockey. No distractions, no outside errands or tasks. Just the boys.

Nash mentioned how the Rangers did build on that type of trip in the past, and how during The Garden’s refurbishing, it was right at the start of the season.

[Watch Rangers-Ducks Tuesday on MSG+ & MSG GO]

Well, now the Rangers had their first such road trip, and it was past the mid-way point of the season, and maybe it could be turned into a positive again – for a team that was the best in the whole league on the road last season.

Except for such a trip to have that type of impact on a team and its season, there must be victories.

And so far, the Rangers are 0-2 on the trip, which continues in Anaheim Tuesday and closes in San Jose Thursday, before the All-Star break.

That 0-2 makes it 2-5 in the last seven for the Rangers. And in a race as tight as the one in the Metropolitan Division, where five playoff berths are likely from among eight teams – the last seven separated by a total of six points – 2-5 has to stop quickly.

The Rangers’ first loss on the trip, 3-1 (with an empty-netter) to a smoking-hot Colorado team, was understandable. They were without Chris Kreider, Kevin Shattenkirk, Kevin Hayes, Marc Staal and Michael Grabner, and gave it a good effort with a barely recognizable roster.

The next was inexplicable, with Staal and Grabner back. Again, the “try” was there, but a series of questionable calls and non-calls, some poor decisions, and some shockingly bad penalty killing did in the Rangers in a 4-2 loss (with an empty-netter) at Staples Center, a game in which the Rangers led 2-0.

Ron Duguay, Steve Valiquette and Bill Pidto break down the solid game from Jimmy Vesey, the physical play in the tilt and the Kings' three power play goals that gave LA the win.

They weren’t dominant at 2-0, but they were playing well, spending time in the offensive zone, creating problems for the reeling Kings, who were being booed by the home crowd.

But it unraveled quickly.

First of all, let’s note that Dan O’Halloran, who helped cost the Rangers Game 2 of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final in the same building – the Dwight King squashing of Henrik Lundqvist for a critical goal that should have been disallowed for goalie interference – was involved.

Early on, Kyle Clifford put a late, high hit – a headshot – on a vulnerable Brendan Smith, and was given only a minor penalty.

As the first period ended, with the Rangers up by two, Clifford cross-checked rookie Tony DeAngelo from behind. That was either missed or the officials, as they sometimes do, chose to not call it. Smith reacted with a cross-check that sent Clifford flying, and led to Smith fighting non-fighter Adrian Kempe.

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault twice insinuated he wasn’t thrilled with Smith taking the retaliatory penalty. Plus the unnecessary fight certainly woke up the Kings, who were on a six-game losing streak, and being outplayed and booed during the period.

But more than that, Smith’s hit on Clifford, and the non-called original cross-check by Clifford, put the Kings on the power play. To make it worse, Kings goalie Jonathan Quick crossed the red line, which is supposed to be an automatic minor penalty, and was chirping at the Rangers during the scrum.

Quick was not penalized. That had Vigneault perplexed and annoyed.

Alain Vigneault talks about Brendan Smith's fight and penalty at the end of the first period and the Rangers effort shorthanded in the loss to LA.

Whatever you think of Smith’s decision(s), the Rangers really should not have been short-handed after that sequence.

Of course, the Kings opened the second period by scoring on the power play and would do so two more times in the period. The Rangers hadn’t allowed three power-play goals in a period since 2009. They also hadn’t allowed more than one power-play goal in 44 of their first 45 games this season, and have now allowed two or more in two of their last three, against two struggling power plays (Buffalo and LA).

So that part is on them. How they got there, that’s another story.

But long story short, the Rangers really need to salvage a road trip that might have been a turning point in their favor and prevent it from being a tipping point against them.

[Watch Rangers-Ducks Tuesday on MSG+ & MSG GO]