With the Rangers off to another bumpy start to their season, it’s important that fans remember that it could be worse. Much worse.
The 1943-44 Rangers lost their first 11 games of the season. Thankfully it’s a Ranger record that still stands today. The streak was broken by a 2–2 tie with Montreal but then they lost the next four in a row. The Blueshirts finished the 50 game season with a 6-39-5 record for 17 points, 26 points out of a playoff spot. They managed to score 162 goals but gave up a whopping 310 goals against. No Ranger team would give up more than 300 goals until the 76-game 1975-76 season (333).
World War II was the main reason for the team’s steep decline. The War had a devastating effect on the NHL but hit the Rangers especially hard. After all in their first 16 seasons the Rangers won three cups, finished first three times and missed the playoffs only once. But then came the war and it would take a long time for the country and the Rangers to recover.
On December 7th 1941, the day Japan bombed Pearl Harbor the Rangers beat Boston 5-4. Over the next season and a half 10 of the 14 Rangers in the lineup that night joined the armed forces. Muzz and Lynn Patrick were among the first to leave. Even though they were both born in Canada, they were naturalized American citizens and joined the US Army. Goaltender “Sugar” Jin Henry enlisted in the Canadian Army. Art Coulter joined the Coast Guard. Alex Shibickey and Neil and Mac Colville were also soon in the Armed Forces.
The Rangers still managed to finish in first place in 1941-42 but fell to last place in 1942-43 with a 11-31-8 record. However the 1943-44 season was the low point of the War years for the Rangers.
The loss of their best players certainly hurt the Rangers but they were also victimized by a number of poor decisions by Lester Patrick who was the architect of the team’s previous success.
Patrick thought that the league would cease operations during the war so he sold off all the players from his top farm club the Philadelphia Ramblers.
But the league didn’t miss a game and the Rangers were left with little NHL caliber talent. He was also leery of wartime border crossing restrictions and loaned Phil Watson, the center of the Rangers top line with Bryan Hextall on the right and Lynn Patrick on the left, to Montreal in exchange for Charlie Sands, Fern Gauthier, Dutch Hiller, John Mahaffy and future considerations which turned out to be Tony Demers. Watson got his name on the Stanley Cup that season, while the Rangers finished in the cellar. Patrick actually wanted to suspend operations after the 1942-43 seasons but when the Brooklyn Americans dropped out of the league the NHL’s Board of Governors talked him out of it.
The 1943-44 Blueshirts were shutout five times and surrendered 10 or more goals seven times during the season including a franchise worst 15-0 loss to Detroit on January 23rd at the Olympia. Despite the lopsided score goalie Ken “Tubby” McAuley made 43 saves that night. I guess you could say his defense let him down. The Wings actually scored a 16th goal but it came right at the final buzzer and was not allowed. The Rangers could only muster nine shots on Detroit’s Connie Dion handing the Wings own wartime replacement goaltender his only NHL shutout.
The fact that McAuley was their goaltender that season is another example of the Rangers poor planning. When they opened training camp for the 1942-43 season Patrick did not have a goaltender under contract to replace Jim Henry. So they had to scramble to find a capable netminder. Four goalies played for the Rangers in 1942-43: Bill Beveridge, Lionel Bouvrette, Jimmy Franks and the infamous Steve Buzinski (the puck goes in-ski), each with little success.
At the beginning of the 1943-44 season the Rangers signed McAuley, who had only senior league experience, and hoped for the best. Ken finished the season with a 6.20 goals-against average giving up 310 goals. But the guy really deserved a medal. He played in all 50 games, his only relief came when he was injured and replaced for one period by Harry Lumley who was Detroit’s spare goaltender. The Blueshirts had no one else to turn to for the 1944-45 season so they resigned McAuley who was able to lower his GAA to 4.94 that season.
The 1943-44 Blueshirts set a franchise record for the most rookies used during the season (20). One of those youngsters was Don “Bones” Raleigh who was only 17 years old when he made his Ranger debut. Raleigh recorded two goals and two assists in 15 games but was later sidelined with a broken jaw. Raleigh would return a few years later to enjoy a memorable 10-year career with the Rangers.
Hextall led the team in scoring with 21 goals and 33 assists but he received little help from the rest of the forwards. It got so bad that Coach Frank Boucher at age 42 came out of retirement and played 15 games. Although his legs and stamina were gone he still managed to score four goals and add 10 assists for 14 points in 15 games. The Blueshirts finished the season pretty much the same way they started it with a 21 game winless streak going 0-17-4 from January 27th to the end of the season on March 19th,
The Rangers finished last in each of the next two seasons and Patrick was dismissed in 1946. He was replaced by Boucher who also remained as coach. Boucher rebuilt the farm system that would produce stars such as Andy Bathgate, Harry Howell and Allan Stanley in the 1950’s.
But the damage had been done and the Blueshirts didn’t make the playoffs again until 1947-48 and only five times in the next 14 seasons.