There is no reason for the Rangers to pretend like they weren’t bothered by this extremely unusual weeklong break just two games into the season, a break that mercifully ends when they play host to the Oilers at the Garden on Saturday afternoon.
But the Blueshirts, whose two victories seem like they happened months ago, aren’t trying to let this pesky scheduling anomaly get to them.
“When I looked at it first time, yeah, I was a little annoyed. I’m not going to lie,” goalie Henrik Lundqvist said after Friday’s practice as he prepared for his second start of the season. “But then you just move on. You see it as an opportunity for us to work on a lot of details on our game. So you see the positives in it as well.”
Coach David Quinn took it as an opportunity to drill into his young team a couple of key points, most notably with defensive-zone coverages and breaking out of their own end. The practices have been long and hard, with Quinn’s voice getting pretty scratchy afterward. With three new defensemen and a lot of youth, there were plenty of teaching moments, with one overarching theme.
“Just not getting distracted and being focused on doing your job,” Quinn said. “Too often we play the ‘what-if’ game. Instead of doing what we’re supposed to do [with the play] that’s in front of us, we don’t do it because we think, ‘Well, what if this happens?’ You can’t play hockey that way. You’ve got to play the play in front of you.”
Quinn was vocal from the beginning that he didn’t like the schedule — which, after Saturday, continues with another four days off, making it three games in 13 days since opening night. But he didn’t want to play any sort of hypothetical game thinking about what might have been if the schedule were different.
“If you ask me, I don’t like it, but I’m not complaining about it,” Quinn said. “It is what it is.”
The real problem isn’t with all the rest the Rangers are getting right now, but with how it slightly condenses the rest of the schedule. The difficulty comes with stretches like the six games in eight nights at the end of November; or the back-to-back that precedes a four-game, weeklong trip from Las Vegas to California the second week of December; or the 10 games in 17 days in February, eight of which are on the road.
“It’s surprising to me to get this whole week, then get another [four] days,” Lundqvist said. “I’m not sure why that it is. Obviously we’re going to pay for it later with a very tight schedule.”
But even Quinn knows from his one year as an assistant with the Avalanche that the three teams in the New York area have it better than most — and the Rangers have it better than the Devils and Islanders, being in the geographic middle. Where most teams — especially in the Western Conference — have significant travel for all 41 of road games, the Rangers have it easy with eight to 10 games against the Devils and Islanders (and it used to be more). The travel is also rather easy to cities like Philadelphia, Washington, and Boston.
“We’re the one team in this league that can’t complain about schedule, with our travel,” Quinn said. “Everything is relative.”
Every team’s schedule needs to be approved by the Players’ Association, and two seasons ago, the league instituted a “bye week” for every team, getting five days off in either January or February. That condensed the remaining schedule even more.
There are also times when teams are kicked out of their building, like the Rangers always being away for New Year’s Eve with the multi-night stand for the band Phish. But the Garden was vacant this past week, and somehow the Rangers’ oddity remains.
“I’m sure the league, if they could have, would have done something different,” Quinn said. “I don’t think the league likes it either. But sometimes things are out of your control. What are you going to do?”