The New York Rangers face the first of two trips out west on Tuesday night as they take on the Vancouver Canucks in the Blueshirts first trip to Western Canada since the 2007-2008 season. Hopefully, this trip turns out better than their last visit.

Tom Renney’s troops’ poor performance that season was highlighted by their trip-ending 3-2 shootout loss at Edmonton. The Rangers preceded that loss with a 4-3 loss to Calgary and 3-0 blanking against Vancouver in early January 2008.

The Blueshirts did not play much better following their trip out west. They stumbled along with a 2-4-1 record which included two straight home losses by a combined 11-5 score.

The Rangers fared much better last season when they made their lone trip out west to play the three California teams. They opened the trip with a 3-1 victory over Anaheim and followed it up with a 3-2 overtime win against Los Angeles. The trip ended with a hard fought 3-2 loss at San Jose.

Unfortunately, the Rangers had problems following the trip out west as they limped along to the tune of a 2-3-2 run following their week of California dreaming.

The 2006-2007 season brought the Rangers their best results on a western trip. The Blueshirts headed west early in the season for a four-game road trip at the end of October/beginning of November. The team went 3-1 on the trip with wins over Phoenix, Anaheim (in overtime) and San Jose. The lone blemish was a 4-1 loss at Los Angeles.

Following the road trip, the Rangers followed up with a 3-3-1 record in their next seven games – including a 4-3 shootout win at Florida.

Interestingly enough, the Rangers did not make a trip out west following the lockout as the NHL adjusted their schedule for the 2005/2006 season.

These numbers show that, not only do the Rangers have their work cut out for them in Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary, but they have work even harder to avoid any lingering after effects of the trip to Western Canada. The Rangers return from the trip with four of their next five games at home – against Atlanta, Washington, Florida and Columbus. The lone road game is a trip to Ottawa.

I am a big believer in these types of road trips out west. They are a good way to help build team bonding. They also serve as a means to focus the team on hockey as all of the distractions of being at “home” in New York are taken away.

I like to believe that the Rangers quick start last season was aided by their trip to the Czech Republic – even if it threw them off their normal training camp routine. The games in Europe forced the Rangers to focus in on hockey earlier than they would have if they started back in New York. However, this is not the belief of former Rangers coach Tom Renney.

With Renney’s Oilers on Long Island to face the Islanders last night, it gave the media their first chance to talk to the former coach. Among the subjects he discussed was the Rangers trip to the Czech Republic.

“I would have rather not gone to Europe, that really accelerated the process. We were in really good shape, that’s what got us our start,” Andrew Gross wrote on his NorthJersey.com Blog. “We were in excellent shape at the start because of the fitness level. It stunted our ability to grow with being at home and continuing to practice a little bit because we weren’t as tidy as it might have appeared.”

As I mentioned at the top, this trip out west is not the Rangers only visit to the left coast. At the end of January, they play back-to-back games at Phoenix and Colorado before finishing up at Los Angeles. Once again the Rangers return with four of the next five at home – against Washington, New Jersey, Nashville and Tampa Bay. The lone road trip is their final regular season visit to the Igloo in Pittsburgh.

One thing that has surprised with this trip west is that the Ranges did not recall a seventh defenseman for the trip. It is a bit of a gamble to head to Western Canada with only six defenseman. Glen Sather and John Tortorella are taking a big gamble that a blueliner does not get hurt in a pre-game skate. I suppose, in an emergency, Brian Boyle could see some shifts on defense because he did play there some for the Kings.

I had the chance to speak with Mitch Beck who runs the Howlings web site that covers the Hartford wolf Pack. While he did not think the Rangers would bring in a seventh defenseman, he did address the pecking order in an e-mail to me.

“If the real question is who the top d-man in Hartford is right now; it’s Bobby Sanguinetti. Technically he’s listed as second among all defenseman in scoring with 15 points with 4 goals and 11 assists in 12 games. He’s tied though in points with Andy Wozniewski (5g, 10a, 15 pts) but the Providence d-man has played one game less,” Beck reported.

“Sanguinetti is plus-1 and has only taken one penalty in the 12 games he’s played in. Don’t take that though as not being physical; just the opposite, he is. He’s just being smart about it. Of his goals, Sanguinetti has 1 on the PP and 5 of his assists have come a man up.”

In addition to his positive report on the Rangers 2006 first round draft pick, Mitch also sent along the following report on some other Wolf Pack rearguards:

• “Ilkka Heikkinen has been good on both sides of the puck. He’s 6th among D-men with 11 points (3g, 8a, 11 pts). He has a plus-3 and has not sat in the box. One of his goals and six of his helpers have been with an opposing player in the box.”

• “In terms of defensive defenseman, Michael Sauer (2g, 3a, 5 pts, and plus-1) has been better than Corey Potter (1g, 4a 5 pts and minus-4).”

• “If someone is doing to ask about Mathieu Dandenault I would tell you that in the five games he’s played in with the Pack, he doesn’t have a point and really hasn’t done anything to stand out.”

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