Sunday, April 17, 2011

N.Y. RANGERS ~ Game Three; Showtime for Broadway Blueshirts

Eastern Conference Playoffs

Round One

Washington Capitals (2-0)

33rd Street and 7th Avenue

Picture as/of  2008-2009 playoffs versus Washington

NEW YORK RANGERS:  They Can't Afford To Let Any More Lights Go Out.   The Rangers Need a Broadway Hit.

The Blueshirts are in need of just one player separating himself from the rest, taking control of the Rangers' situation and leading us through Game Three.

It's not a series until a home team loses. 


OK, now it's time for the Rangers to hold serve at home.

Sure it is.

One goal in almost seven periods of Hockey does not a Stanley Cup Run make.  But until the door finally slams shut on this season, it won't officially become a problem for Glen Sather and the New York Rangers because you play in the moment and utilize what you have. 

The same problem which has plagued the Blueshirts all season continues to afflict them in the playoffs.  The dearth of scoring is something we're all accustomed to.  Just because we're talking about it in mid-April with games to play, doesn't make it any different or lessen the scarcity.  The team's inability to score multiple goals per game, sometimes much less getting one, won't totally hit home until this team gets knocked from the playoffs.  But until then, we Ranger fans will continue to feel like we can win a few games one goal to none.  Because quite honestly, it's all we can do right now.

Unlike Washington's consistent and sustained offensive pressure, there is nothing happening for the Rangers off the rush.  They gain the zone and it's one shot and out.  And as usual, there is nothing happening for the Rangers on the power play.  They've been playing a fairly solid neutral zone game and have created some chances off of that, but have suffered from neutral zone play just the same.  They created more traffic in front of Neuvirth in game two than they did in game one, although it still wasn't enough. Washington's goalie shut-out the Rangers in game two none-the-less, despite an uptick in Ranger shots.

As much as you may cling to the notion you can ride a hot goalie through the playoffs, Henrik Lundqvist can't do this by himself.  Even Heat Meizer still needed a cast of all those little guys dancing around him as Henrik needs someone to score goals for him.  By himself, Henrik wasn't enough in previous playoff runs, and he's not nearly enough now.  The fact is, Washington is finishing games, and the Rangers are not.  Even a King needs his Knights and Horsemen to win the day.  The Rangers can no longer rely on defense, a system, and Henrik Lundqvist to bide time while waiting for one or two fortuitous scoring chances to present themselves.  That time has passed.  For game three requires a different mind set.  If the Rangers can tie this series, then perhaps they can go back and play within their comfort zone.  But game three requires something substantially more harried than the offensive game plan during the first two games of this series.  It's getting late too early for the Rangers and their fans.

The Rangers need to double and triple up on shots when they gain the zone.  Let the shots fly and rebounding opportunities will be there.  Shoot early upon entering the zone and start getting Washington's heads turning in different directions.  The longer you take trying to set up a quality chance, the longer Washington has to set their defense.  Shoot; shoot; shoot; and get those guys reacting.  If they are reacting, they'll do less defending and won't know where to look next.  Sounds easy right?

Enter the zone, shoot the puck from up high while someone is crashing the net.  C'mon?!  I'm not a coach!  Shoot the puck from the sides.  Shoot it from the point; the circle; the Blue Line; the Red Line; Try to bank one off the goalie's back for Pete's sake.  Try anything to score; - But shoot the puck and shoot it often.  The only way to score more is by increasing our shot totals.  Increased shot totals increase our percentage that one shot finds the back of the net.  Heck, aim at a player if you have to.  If he gets nailed with a puck, he may not get in front of the next one.  Shoot the damn puck in unrelenting quantities and be less concerned with quality. 

Do that, and crash the net!  Crash the net with ferocity.  I said that the other day, and I'll repeat it today.  Make Washington's rookie Neuvirth work in a crowded and bothersome environment.  Make him feel the action instead of just the feeling of a puck hitting his glove.  Bump him; give him snow showers; call him names if you have to.  And if we're going to do all that, be prepared to fight too!

This is it.  There will be no coming back from a three games to none deficit.  There is only one thing this team can do to help itself.  They need to score goals.  If defense is sacrificed in the name of offense, then, we'll just have to score that many more goals than the Capitals.  The Rangers need the offensive unit which can score goals in bunches like they did in two games versus Washington during the regular season.  Then, let Coach Torts manage line assignments to hopefully protect a lead.  The one goal offensive unit, as we have seen, hasn't gotten it done in the last two games.  In Hockey playoffs, that's fifty percent of your chances gone, with half to go before you're out.

Washington is playing more physical and slightly faster Hockey than we are.  When we take the body, Washington seems unimpeded by our efforts.  If we are blocking shots, it means we don't have possession of the puck, not to mention having a player sprawled out on the ice.  That's an open invitation for 2nd and 3rd shot opportunities.  I say, Rangers, stay on your feet and let Henrik deal with some of those shots.  Stay on your feet and maybe we'll get an odd-man rush the other way.  Stop back-skating and meet these guys at the blue-line and try getting that puck moving the other way.  We need to increase the speed of our transition game and the frequency of our offensive rushes.  We won't do that as long as we let Washington enter, puck-handling into the zone while we resort to relying on our defense creating a chance for us.

A seven game series requires some drastic changes sometimes; especially when things aren't going your way.  But let's all be honest here and cut Coach Torts some slack at the same time.  Coach made the change, benching Zuccarello, and returning Sean Avery to the ice - who had himself a solid game while also staying out of the penalty box.  It didn't translate into goals but Coach Torts needs to keep his energy on the ice.  Avery was teamed with Prust and Boyle towards the latter part of the game after starting play on the fourth line with Anisimov.  I repeat, he did play well. 

Avery-Prust-Boyle; - That's one hell of a tough, gritty, fore-checking, digging pucks down low line formation.  But there's only one problem with it.  If three guys are fighting for pucks, who's in front for a pass?  That's a really unfunny joke..isn't it? - If Coach Torts reunites Marian Gaborik with Vinny Prospal, Washington's Coach Boudreau will find a way to get a line on the ice that will skate circles around them.  Even with a healthy Ryan Callahan, we've seen these line combinations before.  As a matter of fact, we've seen all Coach Tort's line combinations already.  They've all been mixed and matched.  All trios have been assembled, tested, and re-tested.  They've all offered the same results.  No one stands out and separates themselves from the other.

The young guys like Stepan and Sauer seem to be having a ball.  Anisimov seems to have lost his legs.  And Coach was right about Zuccarello.  He's better suited for the regular season.  McDonagh just needs to be more careful with his penalties going forward.  But in order to win a pair of games and get back in this series, the Rangers' vets and youngsters alike, will have to start taking some chances. 

We've asked so much of Marc Staal already.  However, he may have to join-in on offense more intensely now.  He may have to supply more than an occasional pinch and being present for a centering pass, especially if Coach Torts marches forward with an Avery-Boyle-Prust line.  Because the problem is, what the problem has always been for the Blueshirts this season; the absence of consistent scoring from Marian Gaborik.  So if we can't rely on Gaborik, goals have to come from somewhere else.  And any hopes we have of winning two out of the next three games, should not be hinged on Marian Gaborik anymore.  He hasn't been what we've expected.  So, why should we have expectations regarding him now.  Ditto goes for Chris Drury.

Instead, I say it's high-time Brandon Dubinsky find his place among the Blueshirts' reliables.  He is skating in a holding pattern.  He can either cement his future in a Blueshirt jersey by stepping up for this team as one of the core players of this organization, or, fade away down the stretch and effectively play his way off-Broadway.  Because whether you like it or not, Brandon Dubinsky is playing to save his future as a Ranger.  Ask any player ( hem,  Chris Drury) who parlayed a good playoff into a nifty contract what it's like to come through for your team and get paid for it after the fact.  Brandon may never find that out unless he adds a little more to his game than just his cuteness.  He's been tougher this season and has done well to stick up for his team-mates.  He's getting better at winning face-offs with more frequency.  He's a beloved blue-collar Ranger.  But there comes a time that defines a young man's career if there is star quality in him.  There's a moment they go from being a young, gamely neophyte, to taking a lead role amongst men.  To the left of Dubinsky are aging vets far removed from more glorious days.  To the right of him are players even younger than Brandon, who all have just a little over two hours of playoff experience.

In the absence of his Brother in Grind; Ryan Callahan - Brandon Dubinsky is now charged (by me I guess) with making the future of the New York Rangers happen now.  Game three and four are screaming his name.  Ranger fans (uh..I guess me) WANT him to answer the call.  But will he?  We aren't asking him to become Rod Gilbert over night.  We just need a hero for game three named Brandon Dubinsky.

He's been here.  He's inter-woven into Coach Tort's tapestry of core players.  Brandon Dubinsky identifies the Rangers as much as any player we can mention.  He is consistently among the team leaders in ice time.  By default, he is the team's regular season leading scorer.  Before Callahan went down, Dubinsky was a third of the Rangers best forward line.  He IS a Ranger. 

But at 3:00pm Saturday afternoon, the Rangers need him to be The Man.

Can he?


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