The New York Rangers gave away their 2-0 series lead over the New Jersey Devils, dropping consecutive games at home. They won the first two games on the road by identical 5-1 scores, but Devils’ head coach Lindy Ruff made adjustments that have gotten his team back in the series. Now it is time for Rangers’ head coach Gerard Gallant to do the same.
Adjustments at Even Strength
During the Rangers’ first two postseason games, they capitalized on defensive mistakes and were able to create some odd-man rush opportunities. The Devils started playing a much more conservative style in Game 3, clogging up the neutral zone while avoiding making any big defensive mistakes.
The Rangers repeatedly tried to pass their way through the neutral zone but the Devils made that very difficult. They never seemed to get their forecheck going in Game 4 and their refusal to dump the puck in ended up hurting them.
One of the Rangers’ best lines in the first four games of the series was their “Kid Line” of Kaapo Kakko, Filip Chytil, and Alexis Lafreniere. They are the only line that has consistently forechecked and won one-on-one battles for the puck in every game. Even though New York has plenty of stars on their top two lines, the Devils are forcing them to play a grittier style and they need to respond in Game 5.
This style of play should be beneficial for the team’s fourth line which is used to playing with grit; however, they did not get much ice time and were not particularly noticeable when they did play. All three members of the fourth line (Barclay Goodrow, Tyler Motte, and Jimmy Vesey) are reliable penalty killers and they could make a difference in a shutdown defensive role.
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For the most part, the Rangers played well defensively despite losing their last two games but they made a big defensive mistake early in Game 4. After creating a few great scoring chances, they allowed Jonas Siegenthaler to spring Jack Hughes on a breakaway and he capitalized on it, beating Igor Shesterkin with a deke. The Blueshirts can’t get overly aggressive in the offensive zone because of their scoring woes, as New Jersey will make them pay. Instead, New York needs to work hard and get to the front of the net to score some greasy goals.
Adjustments on the Power Play
Chris Kreider scored four power play goals in the first two games of the series but the Rangers struggled on the power play in both Game 3 and Game 4, going 0-8. New Jersey has taken away many of the cross-seam passes that worked so well in the first two games and now the Blueshirts need to make an adjustment.
Just like at even strength, the Rangers have been reluctant to dump the puck in and they have struggled to set up their power play. They have also passed up some very good shooting opportunities from the center of the ice and instead opted for slapshots from bad angles. They need to get more shots through from the point and give Kreider a chance to create havoc in front of the net.
Another issue for the Rangers’ power play is that their second unit has gotten much more ice time than they did in the regular season but they are not generating scoring chances. The second unit has looked disjointed and they have struggled to gain control of the puck in the offensive zone after New Jersey clears the puck. Jacob Trouba is also not getting enough shots on goal from the point.
Though the first power play unit has struggled in the last two games, they have still looked better than the second unit and Gallant needs to leave them on longer in these crucial games.
For the Rangers Moving Forward
Despite losing the momentum, the series is still tied, and the Rangers still have an opportunity to advance. They need their star players to step up and come through. Trouba needs to lead by example, Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad need to break through offensively, and the entire team needs to play better.
After the Devils lost the first two games, they made smart adjustments which have helped them win the last two games. Now Gallant and the Rangers need to do the same, in order to get the momentum back and win this series.