The New York Rangers were embarrassed on home ice Sunday night against the Montreal Canadiens, losing 3-1. In this Game 3, there were a handful of players who performed at the playoff-level expected. Rick Nash had another good game, prevalent in all three zones. Henrik Lundqvist made a plethora of big saves to keep the Rangers in the game. Even the fourth line played another decent game, creating chances and imposing their physical will. Is that enough to win a playoff game? No.
In reality, a hockey team needs the entire roster to be a well-oiled machine to win games. This was the worst of any playoff game, including Game 2 where the Rangers conceded 58 shots. It’s obvious at this point that the Rangers are being outplayed, so how is that fixed? Well, first things first, changes are needed.
Rangers Defensive Pairs Not Cohesive
At the top of the “what is going wrong” list has to be the defensive pairs. Why does Alain Vigneault consistently stick one of the better defensemen in the NHL with someone who’s considered across the board to be a liability? If Vigneault decided to pair Ryan McDonagh and Brady Skjei on the first pairing great things could happen.
When McDonagh and Skjei were played together during the season, the output was tremendous. They provided 4.41 goals for per 60 minutes of ice time, compared to just .86 goals allowed per 60 minutes. For a pairing that would eat up the most significant amount of ice time, that is astonishingly great.
The second pairing is a bit easier to put together. Obviously, new acquisition Brendan Smith would stay in one-half of this pairing. Smith has played well in the playoffs so far, but his defensive pairing not so much. Pairing Nick Holden with Smith could bring back the spark they had during the season when they were lights out together.
Holden had a terrible Game 2, garnering a benching that backfired about as badly as possible due to Kevin Klein’s inefficiencies. Why not enable Holden’s successful tendencies with a defenseman who is good both offensively and defensively?
Obviously, stacking the top four brings a problem on the bottom pairing. Is there a pairing that can work? With the likelihood that Vigneault wouldn’t consider benching Dan Girardi, is there someone who can help him succeed? That’s where Steven Kampfer comes in. It’s an experiment for sure, but Kampfer has generally been a reliable third pairing defenseman this season. Reliable is something the Rangers need so Kampfer could do a lot of positive things in minimal minutes.
Let Buchnevich Play
Pavel Buchnevich has been called inconsistent by Vigneault. While that may be the case looking at the black-and-white numbers, that’s mostly due to a lack of ice time. Buchnevich has often been scapegoated this season even though his production has generally been one of the best on the team. In 12 games of 15 minutes or more of ice time, he’s produced 4 goals and 6 assists. Those numbers are very welcome on a team that hasn’t scored at 5-on-5 in a home playoff game in two years.
The Rangers offense has lost all types of creativity over the last few games. Buchnevich is a dynamic threat when he gets minutes, which could help jumpstart the Rangers’ lacking offense. As the lines are likely going to be shifted around, slotting in Buchnevich with a slumping Kreider and Zibanejad may end their funk then and there. Nothing couls be worse than Sunday night’s thumping, so changes like these are well welcome.
Feed Off Lundqvist’s Emotion, Changing Lines
The emotional leader of the Rangers is Lundqvist. Emotions have run deep with Lundqvist so far through three games, with constant teaching coming from Hank to his defensemen. The team needs to feed off of Lundqvist’s obvious passion and really dig deep, playing every game like it’s an elimination game. If your goaltender is the only player playing at a high enough level to win the game, chances are you won’t win. It’s that simple.
Speaking of Lundqvist, has he been good or what? With a .941 save percentage, 2.16 goals against average, and a shutout, he’s been one of the best performers in the playoffs. One positive to help Lundqvist is Vigneault’s desire to go back to what is working. Vigneault will shake up the lines to ones that were generally good during the season, as signified by Monday’s practice. With Nash, Vesey, and Stepan together, that should help at both ends of the ice.
One change is adding Buchnevich into the lineup with Zibanejad and Kreider. This change is huge, being one of the best line combinations the Rangers used all season. That would put Zuccarello on the third line with Miller and Hayes which could potentially be the best third line in the sport. Then, last but not least, Grabner will be on the fourth line with Fast and Lindberg. That is if the Rangers’ practice lines are realistic and Tanner Glass is going to take a break from hitting to sit in the press box.