Wednesday, April 12, 2017

N.Y. Rangers: Eye of the Paper Tiger; Game One


Stanley Cup Playoffs


The Slides of March
You can pirouette your way through the regular season against the NHL's mean competition,
but you can't do that in a short playoff series.  Yes, AV, I'm talking to you.

New York Rangers: What 102 Points Gets You at the Metropolitan Division Exchange Rate.

Mike ... why are you so down on the Rangers?

Go back and read the Slides of March.  The upcoming series will either prove me right, or dead wrong.  That remains to be seen.

Otherwise, my answer is because all was never as pretty as it seemed to begin with.

Let's start with the competition ... shall we?

There's no coincidence in the fact that Washington, Pittsburgh, Columbus, and Montreal all finished ahead of the Rangers in this year's Eastern Conference standings.  During the regular season, the Rangers posted a sub par 6-10 record against them.

The Rangers additionally sputtered to an 8-11 record through the Slides of March (and four games in April).  Three of those games were against the Habs, Penguins, and Capitals.  The Rangers lost them all by an overall 10-4 margin of disparity.

Tex's Rangers were once again winter marvels, though, posting a regular season record of 48-28-6 (102 points), scoring the fourth most goals in the league, and recording best road record in the NHL.   Despite their proficiency, they only placed fourth in the Metropolitan Division and fifth in the conference.

So, let me know when this all starts sounding familiar to you ...

In the mean time, the Rangers are just 11-19 in their last 30 games at home, and generally do not play well in Montreal.

That being said, it's north of the border we go for Game One.

Montreal jettisoned some smaller players and got bigger, stronger, and tougher at the trade deadline. They swept all three games of the season series against the Rangers, and enter this series arguably boasting the better goalie, the best defenseman, and the best forward poised to take the ice.

  • LW - Max Pacioretty: 35 goals, 32 assists (67 points), +15.
  • D - Shea Weber: 17 goals, 25 assists (42 points), +20.
  • G -  Carey Price: 37-20-5, 2.23 GAA, .923 SV%
Just saying ...

In Mats Zuccarello We Trust; Think About That for a Moment

  • LW - Rick Nash: 23 goals, 15 assists (38 points), +9
  • RW - Mats Zuccarello: 15 goals, 44 assists (59 points), +15
  • LW - Chris Kreider: 28 goals, 25 assists (53 points), +6

I don't want to be overly disparaging, but, Rick Nash should be ashamed of himself.  Thirty-eight points?  A guy with his size and speed - it's ponderous, I know.  I can't help but recall how Columbus fans told us we'd soon regret the trade.  Did we fans expect way too much of Nash?  I doubt it.

His failures create systemic problems.  Very simply, a team featuring Rick Nash should not be led in any offensive category by Mats Zuccarello.  Yet, MatZuccs did just that ... again!  He can not continue being the Rangers best forward ... if you know what I mean.  He's great.  I love MatZuccs.   He plays smart, and will skate into tougher areas of the ice.  But if he's the best Blueshirt forward on the ice, it means other forward-liners aren't doing nearly enough.

Therefore, Kevin Hayes and Chris Kreider must seize the day.  Kreider had a good season, but now he must lead.  I'm not saying Kreider needs to knock Carey Price into the twilight zone again.  But I am saying Kreider, Hayes, Nash, JT Miller, and Jimmy Vesey, must all get their 200+pound bodies in front of net.

Outside of Shea Weber, they should be able to push their way through, but only if they want to.  This is where I demand more from Alain Vigneault.  I need for him to pull the curtain on his meticulously choreographed ballet, and order his bigger bodies on search and destroy missions seeking out second and third opportunities.  As they say, if Price can see the puck, he'll stop it.  Therefore, chaos in the crease is key.

I've always made size and toughness on the forward lines, or lack thereof, a major point of contention.  But do the Rangers have the blueliners to get this done?

  • D - Ryan McDonagh: 6 goals, 36 assists (42 points), +20

No issues with the guy wearing the C on his jersey.  My biggest concern is whether Dan Girardi has one more good run in him?  He's a worn and torn 32-years old.

Next, watch out for trade deadline acquisition Brendan Smith.  I do not like this match-up at all.   When these teams last played, Smith was repeatedly knocked off the puck, and squashed by Montreal's newly acquired beefcake forwards.

And as a unit, the blueliners won't exactly be crunching any Montreal forwards in the corners either.

  • G - Henrik Lundqvist: 31-20-4, 2.74 GAA, .910 SV%

The Rangers are asking more of Henrik Lundqvist than ever.  But our liege is 35-years old now, and may not be able to cover all the defensive shortcomings occurring in front of him, and around the net. They do such a deplorable job, and it's because they lack size and toughness needed to push bodies around.  Henrik and Price are essentially the same - if they see it, they'll stop it.  But where the Rangers must alter their style in order to create second and third opportunities, they routinely give them up in the defensive other end.

Please, Henrik, do everything for us ... is no longer an option.  Just like last season, and the one before that, and the one before that, etc., it's incumbent upon the skaters in front of Henrik to do more.  Not the other way around.


I tried very hard not to batter you with my prolonged Alain Vigneault rantings, and my lack of size and toughness ravings.  Very simply, I don't like Alain Vigneault.  I don't like his policy of turn the other cheek, and generally speaking, I think he's just plain soft.  I still say he gave away Game Seven against Tampa Bay because he went with cute, instead of tough.

I digress ...

With regard to the lack of toughness on this team ... those old enough to remember the Smurfs (not the TV cartoon, but the smallish Rangers of the 1980s in the years prior to Brian Leetch's rookie season), know exactly what I mean.

I'll do one better:  If Nick Fotiu (pre-Smurfs) played for these Rangers, we'd win the Cup!

Circling back to Vigneault, did I mention the Rangers downward trending since he took over?

But, Mike, the Rangers just posted three straight 100 point seasons.

Yeah, I know.

But I also know they made the 2013-2014 Stanley Cup finals during his first season, gave away(!) the 2014-2015 Eastern Conference finals the following season, then bowed out four games to one during last year's first round against Pittsburgh.

What will it be this season, getting swept by Montreal?

That's not entirely out of the question.

Ryan McDonagh says throw all that regular season stuff out the window.  The Rangers are playoff tested.  They know what it takes.

But can they get it done?

I'm not so sure.



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