The NHL regular season may be the biggest grind in the professional sports. The New York Rangers have been feeling more than most this season and it looked every bit like a worn-down team against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday.
Playing their ninth game in 15 days, the Rangers were run over 7-2 by the Penguins in what was also their 35th game in 69 days, the fastest the team has reached 35 games in franchise history. Rangers coach Alain Vigneault did not hesitate to put some of the blame for his team’s poor showing on schedule-induced fatigue.
“When you look at your schedule at the beginning of the season, with experience you’re capable of picking out certain dates that might be more challenging than others,” said Vigneault said to the New York Daily News. “Just because of the demand of the schedule, the late nights, etc., you know that energy-wise from your team it might be very, very challenging and I knew this one was gonna be one of those, and without a doubt it was.”
With a rare two-day break between games, Vigneault was able to push him team hard in a rare practice Thursday ahead of a clash with the Minnesota Wild at Madison Square Garden on Friday night. Heavy legs can’t be an excuse against the Wild, who come to New York as winners of nine straight after a 3-2 win in Montreal on Thursday night, which means back-to-back road games against two tough opponents.
The Rangers may catch another break — goaltender Devan Dubnyk and his league-leading .948 save percentage may get the night off. Dubnyk outdueled Carey Price by stopping 32 of 34 shots and hasn’t lost in regulation in his past 12 starts. But with the Christmas break about to start, perhaps coach Bruce Boudreau goes right back to Dubnyk.
After getting the best of Price, it may feel like a relief to face Henrik Lundqvist.
“It was a big buildup,” said Dubnyk to the StarTribune.
He chatted with Price at center ice while stretching during warmup.
“I said, ‘I’ve been talking about you the last week and a half. He said, ‘Same here.’ You try to drown it out as much as you can and approach it like another game,” Dubnyk said.
“There was, I wouldn’t say nerves is the right word, but a little more excitement with all that hype.”
The Wild can set the franchise mark with a 10th straight win. And if you believe Boudreau, he’s not the least bit satisfied with tying the mark in Montreal.
“Tying is like kissing your sister,” Boudreau said to the StarTribune. “Getting it is the nice thing. Our job’s not done. We’re going to try out butts off (Friday against the Rangers).”
Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh, a Minnesota native, who may have played his worst game of the season Tuesday, realizes the Wild won’t care one bit about his team’s hectic schedule to start the season.
“We take it one day at a time here as we always do,” McDonagh said to the Daily News. “So obviously, I want us to make sure that we come ready to play here at home against another team that can shove it up our you-know-what if we don’t come ready to play.”
Copyright © 2016
TTWN Media Networks Inc.