At a glance: Winless in their first three games of the season, the Rangers are desperately seeking their first victory as they head out west for a four-game road trip through Canada that features stops in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg. The Rangers began the
2011-12 season in Europe and, for the first time in franchise history, will have played seven straight road games before their home opener at Madison Square Garden October 27.
Frequent flyers: The Rangers have traveled approximately 10,717.27 miles by air from Sept. 21 to Oct. 15. That's an average of 412.2 miles per day. They’ll travel an additional 5,071.57 miles through their Canada road trip.
Where’s the D?: Just as they began their European trip, the Rangers will begin their Canadian tour with an injury-addled defense. Marc Staal remains out with post-concussion headaches and has yet to practice with the team. Even if he improves dramatically, there is zero chance he’ll be able to rejoin the team during their trip. Michael Sauer's status is also tenuous. After suffering a preseason shoulder injury Sauer played in the team’s first two games in Sweden but did not practice the following week. He was also scratched Saturday against the Islanders, forcing the Rangers to cobble together a defensive corps from everyday NHL’ers Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, bubble players Michael Del Zotto and Steve Eminger, waiver-wire claimee Jeff Woywitka and 20-year-old prospect Tim Erixon.
Penalty problems: After the team’s hobbled back end, discipline has been the Rangers' biggest issue in the early stages of the season. They lead the league with an average of 20.7 penalty minutes per game and have spent 29 minutes over the first three games on the penalty kill. Although their PK is ranked 16th (84.2 %), their penalty kill/power-play differential (10:30) is the worst in the league. The parade to the penalty box crippled their chances in the team’s 4-2 loss to the Islanders Saturday; John Tavares tallied two power-play goals en route to his first hat trick of the season.
Help’s on the way: Sauer made the trip, but the Rangers have a back-up plan if he cannot play Tuesday in Vancouver. Defenseman Brendan Bell was recalled from the team’s AHL affiliate, the Connecticut Whale. Forward Kris Newbury was also recalled while Mats Zuccarello was sent down after playing only 7:55 Saturday.
Strength (or weakness) of schedule: The Vancouver Canucks made it to the Stanley Cup finals last June, but are only 2-2-1 in the first five games this season. Of the four teams the Rangers face this week, the Canucks will pose the most serious challenge, especially since they return star center Ryan Kesler. In 10 games combined, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Calgary only have two wins among them. Like the Rangers, the Jets are also searching for their first win of the season.
Bottom line: Sitting at the bottom of the Atlantic Division, the Rangers are in dire need of a win, but they’ll have to earn one in hostile territory. The last time the Rangers started their season with no wins after their first 3 games was 2003-04; the team went on to finish 13th in the Eastern Conference and miss the playoffs.