Tuesday, May 22, 2012

N.J. Devils ~ Coach DeBoer Putting Rangers Through Hell


N.Y. Rangers   1
N.J. Devils       4

Playing With Pitchforks High!


Battle of the Coaches Heats Up ~ Coach Tortorella and Coach DeBoer moved their series feud from the press room to the benches.  The two engaged in a heated third period exchange, which rumor has it, turned personal in nature. 
Both coaches declined to comment after the game.

Game Four Preview; GRUDGE MATCH, and links to all my Eastern Conference Finals posts.

The Devils beat Philadelphia, primarily because the Flyers were terribly undisciplined and because the Devils wouldn't allow themselves to succumb to their level.  Coach DeBoer constantly implored his team to look the other way in the face of any Flyers' transgressions.  They all listened, and after Game Four against the New York Rangers Monday night, New Jersey is again, clearly the more composed and competent team on the ice.

The Rangers put the Devils on the Power Play another six times in Game Four, although New Jersey only scored once.  But for the Rangers, you can't establish a tempo, or flow, and in the Blueshirts case - grind, or mount any kind of offense when you're consistently killing penalties.  Now, here's the worst part of that.  If Blueshirts fans think staying out of the penalty box alone will help the Rangers, WE are all sadly mistaken.  For a team who's forte used to be playing at even strength, the Rangers have scored a mere two goals throughout these four games while playing five on five hockey.

Late in the first period, Mike Rupp authored the Rangers' best offensive rush of the evening; Ruslan Fedotenko's goal aside.  Rupp's attempt didn't get past Martin Brodeur, but he did draw a penalty.  And for a change, that wasn't a bad proposition.  Unlike the regular season, the Rangers have actually been somewhat successful on the Power Play these playoffs.  They are four for eleven this series.  And we all know they didn't have a near 40% success rate during the season.  But unlike the Rangers were doing, the Devils only put the Rangers on the power play this one time.

Let's be clear.  Mike Rupp was the Rangers' best forward Monday night, right up until he wiped out Peter Harrold behind the net, took a swipe at Anton Volchenkov, then punched Martin Brodeur in the chest.  When a melee ensued, Steve Bernier came charging in towards Mike Rupp.  But Bernier made a mistake by leaving his feet and lunging at Rupp.  So, Mike Rupp wiped him out in mid-air too.

That's it.  That's the extent of the Rangers speakable effort from Monday.

While New Jersey's Forwards were busy skating circles around the Rangers and accumulating eight points, the Ranger Forwards looked like they were skating in sand.  Zach Parise scored twice and assisted once.  Travis Zajac scored his sixth goal of the playoffs.  Ponikarovsky, Clarkson, and Zubrus all assisted on those goals.  Then you can figure in contributions they got from their defensemen.  Bryce Salvador's scored the opening salvo of the evening, and they got an assist from Adam Henrique.

The Rangers' blueliners?  Michael Del Zotto had perhaps his worst game of the playoffs.  And Ryan McDonagh can't be tangling with Adam Henrique like that.  The Devils will take that trade off every time.  Especially now, since the Rangers' defensemen represent so much of the Blueshirts' offense.  Which brings us right back to Mike Rupp.

Mike Rupp was indeed the Rangers best forward Monday night, even as he walked through the tunnel on his way to the locker room.  So what does that say?  The same thing I said yesterday.  I'm still waiting for a Rangers' forward line to dominate a game, like Parise-Zajac-Zubrus did in Game Four, and not having us pray for another Lundqvist miracle.

But John Tortorella's usage of Mike Rupp represented everything that went wrong for the Flyers last round against the Devils.  As a matter of fact, Coach Torts' usage of a number of players showed that some old grudges never went away.  But Peter DeBoer and the Devils, just aren't going there.  Or that's what they would have you believe.  They've successfully fought their battles so far through the Media, inside the Rangers zone, and now from the corners of the bench.  Coach DeBoer even snuck in a goon too.  However, the Devils consistently posted four goals a night against Philly because the Flyers played exactly the way the Rangers did Monday night, over an entire series.  So with the Rangers mirroring something from that series, the Devils wound up posting four goals against the Rangers as well.

As the series heads back to the Garden Wednesday night, even I, a self-admitted Torts Grunt, believes he needs to come up with a better plan than the one he unleashed Monday night.  There was something a little desperate looking about Game Four's decisions and efforts, considering it was the Rangers who held a 2-1 series lead, and not the other way around.  Nor in Game Four did the Rangers resemble the team who made adjustments after games two and three of the previous two series.  This lot looked more than just a little bit lost.

After the game, Coach Torts said his team needs to possess the puck more.  That means our forcheck isn't working.  Martin Brodeur's ability to make a long stretch pass to the blue line has something to do with that.  The Devils' quickness and accurate passing has been another factor hampering the Blueshirt forcheck.  And without the puck, that means the Rangers aren't spending much time in the Devils' zone.  Game Four ended with both goalies facing twenty-nine shots each.  But the Rangers shots came in late period flurries, and not through anything sustained like the Devils have created for themselves.

Nothing is lost for the Rangers.  Not by a long shot.  For Blue leaning Fans like myself, the series boils down to them imposing their will upon the Devils.  But Peter DeBoer and the Devils have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, the Rangers better do it smartly.  Reducing the game to alternative hockey will not help the Rangers.  In Game Four, the Devils also proved they can be patient enough to negate many of the Rangers blocked shots.  For Monday night, the Devils managed twenty-nine shots against Henrik, while the Rangers and Devils were tied with only six blocked shots each by the midway point of the third period.

The third period was supposed to be the Rangers' period.  That's how the first three games played out.  The Rangers have outscored the Devils 6-1 in the third period this series.  But not this time.  It is Coach Tortorella's turn to make adjustments now.  The series might only be tied, but after Game Four's performance, Coach DeBeor holds a distinct edge.

The Rangers can not continue to rely on their defensemen for scoring, nor the wily machinations of their Head Coach.  At some point, and it better be soon, the Forward Lines need to start taking control of these games or else the Devils will be playing for a Stanley Cup.

But these are the Rangers, and they prefer to do things the hard way.  They've been in worse positions than this.   After all, we are only headed into Game Five tied at two apiece.  The Rangers have dug down deep before.  They'll know how to dig in again.  But can they?  Or has their system reached it Law of Diminished Returns?

In any case, Coach Torts is right - it starts with possessing the puck.

The Battle of the Hudson Continues...


I  -  NYR 3; NJD 0
II  -  NJD 3; NYR 2
III  -  NYR 3; NJD 0
IV  -  NJD 4; NYR 1


33rd Street at 7th Avenue

*Devil's Playground ~ Bushwick Urban Art, BK

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