Thursday, October 27, 2011

To Contend Rangers Must Make MSG Home Sweet Home Again

The New York Rangers finally get to hit home ice tonight after playing their first seven games on the road.  The team battled through both poor play and injuries on defense to come home with a successful 3-2-2 record.  Much of the discussion this week is about how nice it is for the Rangers to be with the opportunity to play in a partially renovated Madison Square Garden.  The benefit of starting with so many road games is that you get a six-game home-stand like the one the Rangers begin tonight against Toronto.  However, the question must be asked as to whether the Rangers can actually make MSG an actual home ice advantage this season for that to be helpful to them?
The past two years the Rangers have had their season’s come down to the final day simply because they have not been dominant enough on home ice.  Both season they were well above .500 on the road, and actually recorded more points on the road than at home in both seasons.  Their mediocre home record is one of the biggest things holding this team back.  In 2009-10 the Rangers were just 18-17-6 at home and ended up missing the playoffs by a single point.  Last season the team improved slightly to 20-17-4 at home, but still needed help from Tampa on the final day to make the playoffs by two points.
All the new features of the Garden are nice for the fans and the players to take in off the ice, but none of it matters if the Rangers don’t make it a place the opposition fears coming.  Coach John Tortorella spoke to that yesterday. 
"We love what we see," said Tortorella. "But we need to win here. That's what makes a building good. Winning in it."
If the Rangers have aspirations of winning a division or just moving up in the final standings from the past few years it will start with making their building a tougher place to play.  The Rangers have to get back to the level just after the lockout when they won 25, 21, 25, and 26 games on home ice.  The excuse the past few years has been that the players want it so bad at home that they press and whether that is true or not it has to end this season and tonight is a perfect time to set the tone for the home season.  The Rangers are opening a six game home-stand that can send a message throughout the league that they are back to being a good home team and not one who you can steal points off. 

Combining their play on the road with 25 wins at home makes the Rangers a legitimate threat to get home ice in the playoffs.  If they repeat their .500 or just over home mark they are going to once again be battling for the final spots down the stretch.  Tonight is the beginning of whether the Rangers will once again make MSG home sweet home.