Amid the joy of shutting out the Capitals for the 3rd straight time dating back to last spring’s playoffs, the Rangers jump and energy were prominent. Speed, determination, and fore-checking were on full display, a recipe for a winning team.
While encouraging, we can still wonder why this was the case only fully in 2 games this season, with the loss in St. Louis showing flashes of it. The Rangers themselves described how in the 3rd period in St. Louis ( a return to a “normal” start time) they had run out of gas. Not so in Los Angeles and Washington. The difference? In looking back at the schedule one can see that the Rangers had 4 days off prior to both LA and DC. In both cases then, a well-rested team showed up to play. Add to the fact that the players were navigating challenging time zone differences, adjusting to the different defensive schemes, and one can point to the extra days off as a strong reason for the team’s better play.
They won’t always have the luxury of 4 days off (though not playing until Saturday bodes well), so what may matter more in the long term is what shape the players are in. We had been treated to the groans and protests of apparently the most grueling training schedule of the entire league under the last regime. No such complaints were lodged this time. One Rangers’ source of pride had been that they had gas in the tank in third periods when other teams did not. This was the payoff and indeed they were unbeatable with 3rd period leads. Hopefully, this leads to a prediction: the “real” Ranger team will be the one in best physical shape, ready to go full bore in third periods. Now that they are closer to home and will settle into a friendlier time zone schedule and rhythm, we can look to that happening. I can only conclude that shape does matter.