The Rangers won their first round series over the Penguins by a 4-1 margin, but you would’ve never guessed it had you just watched the games individually, one-by-one. As far as series’ that end in five games go, the latest between New York and Pittsburgh was about as even as they come with every game being decided by one goal, two of which went beyond regulation.
While the Rangers ultimately emerged victorious, some rest and relaxation seems to be just what the doctor ordered, as the Rangers will need to be better come round two if a deep playoff run is to be in store.
Over the five games against the Penguins, the Blueshirts only scored 11 goals, and just once did they put three past Marc-Andre Fleury in game three. The team that averaged 3.02 goals per game during the regular season (3rd in the league) was nowhere to be seen during the first round.
Now to this credit, Fleury was terrific throughout and not the goaltender many expected to see after a number of flubbed playoff performances in recent years. However, Pittsburgh was also playing with a withered defense core in which two of their defensemen (Chorney and Domoulin) weren’t exactly full-time NHL players, and a third, Cole, who wouldn’t have had that title prior to this season. Given that fact, it should be a tad brow raising at the amount of trouble the Rangers had when it came to scoring in their series against the Penguins.
Just imagine if that were Carey Price in goal…
Let’s face it. While not impossible, it’s pretty difficult to have a long and successful postseason run without a reasonably efficient power play. Thus far, the Rangers have not had that.
Cashing in on just three of their 20 opportunities with the man-advantage in the first round, the Rangers’ 15% success rate on the power play is 13th among the 16 playoff teams. That won’t cut it. Not for a lack of effort, though, as the Rangers had a good bit of puck movement and possession when skating up a man, but they struggled to penetrate the middle of the ice and get shots in on Fleury from the high percentage areas.
Oh, and Dan Boyle didn’t exactly help matters either.
Missed the Memo?
Is it fair to say that if the Rangers were to come out with the same amount of energy to start a second round playoff game at the Coliseum against the Islanders as they did for game four against the Penguins in Pittsburgh that they will get slaughtered?
I think so.
To say it was an absolute miracle that the Rangers found a way to come back and win game four is a gross understatement. After going down 1-0 not three minutes into the contest, the Rangers managed just two shots on goal during the game’s first 20 minutes. Worse than that? They had two power plays during that time!
Alain Vigneault reportedly laid into the Rangers following the first period of that game:
— Sean Hartnett (@HartnettHockey) April 23, 2015
While not as bad, game four wasn’t the only lackluster start to a game the Rangers had in the series. The Rangers also appeared to miss the memo that the game had started in game two as well. In that one they only put three shots on Fleury in the opening frame, but lucky for them, Pittsburgh missed it as well.
Bottom line? They have to be ready to play. A slow first period is one thing, but to be as brutal as they were not once, but twice is a whole different animal. Whether it’s the Capitals or the Islanders, the Rangers best be ready as soon as the puck drops.
Calling All Big Guns
I’ll keep this short because in all reality, I don’t think these guys deserve to be criticized. Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis are two of the team’s stars. By no stretch of the imagination have they played badly. Nash has been working extremely hard, he’s generated chances, racked up assists, played with physicality, and is one of the team’s most important penalty killers.That has all been on display in his recent play.
But that doesn’t change the fact that he scored 42 times in the regular season, and if the Rangers are to find their jam when it comes to offense, they would benefit in a big way if Nash were to lead the charge. Can they do it without consistent scoring from number 61? Probably. But my goodness, just imagine where they’d be with it.
The same goes for St. Louis. There’s no question that he’s working his tail off. He always has and always will. But the Rangers could use a little more than one assist every five games from him. Just like last spring, he’ll probably come around and find his scoring touch. It would behoove the Rangers if that happens sooner rather than later.
The Rangers will know come Tuesday morning who their round two opponent will be. Whether it’s the Islanders or the Capitals, the Rangers have to be pleased with the fact that one, that series has gone the distance, and two, that the teams have beat each other to a pulpit. That will most certainly benefit the Blueshirts come next round.
For now, though, the Rangers must use this time to get healthy, and prime and improve their game to ensure that the big shiny cup will be theirs come June.
Jake Gittler is now in his second season as a contributing member of The Hockey Writers. After spending the 2014-15 season working in Communications for Adirondack Flames of the AHL and covering the New York Rangers here for The Hockey Writers, Jake’s coverage has been switched over to the Colorado Avalanche for the 2015-16 season. Jake can be reached via email at Jakegittler@gmail.com, or on Twitter @Jgittler_hockey.