NEW YORK RANGERS: Cowering Down to the Real Competition.
The Rangers closed out February with a 9-4 record. But they won't be getting a pat on the back from me.
I refuse to be fooled - not after consecutive losses against the Blue Jackets and Capitals, and another against the Canadiens, all at Madison Soft Garden.
During their 5-2 loss against Columbus, it was the same old story. In each of their five games against the Blue Jackets, one hit to the body and the Rangers were easily pushed off the puck.
Two nights later, the visiting Caps quite literally left their feet as part of a concerted physical attack upon the Rangers. Alex Ovechkin clearly took a leap at Jesper Fast. The refs didn't call the blatant infraction, and of course, Alain Vigneault turned a blind eye. But the Blueshirts didn't just get pushed around by a bigger, tougher team. They got down right beat up. Just ask Adam Clendening, who found himself on the receiving end of a series of upper cuts during a very one-sided fight against Washington's Daniel Winnik.
And don't think I forgot about how Dallas' Cody Eakin barreled through Henrik Lundqvist on Dec. 15, then how Boston's David Backes basically did the same this past Thursday. Both incidences were ignored by Vigneault. On Saturday, Montreal's smallish Brendan Gallagher took his turn at Lundqvist, which at least was met with mild exception from Marc Staal.
I've said it a million times: Vigneault's policy of turning the other cheek gets people hurt.
Low and behold, Jesper Fast will miss upwards of two to three weeks with a separated shoulder.
That's all that really matters in my method of accounting.
With the playoffs fast approaching, why do you suppose the Montreal Canadiens focused on getting bigger and tougher at the trade deadline? They traded several smaller players for beefcake blue liners Brandon Davidson and Jordie Benn (whom average 6'2" 204 lbs.), along with hulking forwards Dwight King (6'4" 232 lbs.) and Andreas Martinsen (6'3" 220 lbs.).
The Rangers general manager acquired defenseman Brendan Smith from Detroit (for two draft picks), whom doesn't even tip the scale at 200 lbs.
With Kevin Klein missing time, and Dan Girardi now nursing an ankle injury, the move to bring in Smith was necessary. He even received a favorable scouting report from Ron Duguay, who said on the MSG pregame Smith will protect Henrik Lundqvist.
I hope so, because Vigneault won't.
Coach continues believing speed and finesse will overcome all.
Speed is nice, but it's not the end-all-be-all method of puck matriculation. Speed can be slowed down, and even be brought to a grinding halt. Which is to say speed can be neutralized. Physicality and toughness, however, are near constants. They come to the ice every night. If nothing else, what Columbus, Washington, and Montreal, all did was simply weigh down the (Smurfs) Rangers.
If you watched Saturday's game against the Habs, you also figured out there was little Brendan Smith could do against Andreas Martinsen's forechecking. And just for kicks ... did anyone catch how Steve Ott (another Montreal trade deadline acquisition) towered over J.T. Miller?
Comical ... (sigh).
Come the playoffs, I have little confidence the Rangers can advance by Columbus, or Washington, or Pittsburgh, or even Montreal. Beyond speed and Henrik Lundqvist, I base that on their record.
Saturday's victory over the Rangers gives the Habs a 3-0 regular season series sweep. That lowered the Blueshirts record to 5-9 against the aforementioned four teams. They also lost their season series 2-3 against Columbus. They are down 1-2 against Pittsburgh with two games remaining, and have one more game against Washington.
I've said this a million times as well: you can pirouette your way through mean competition during the regular season, but you can't do that in short series/playoffs.