The New York Rangers are one of the youngest teams in the NHL and they had numerous players making their postseason debut. The outstanding play of the team’s young players in the regular season helped turn the Rangers around after a disappointing 2018-19 season and got them into the Qualifying Round of the postseason.
However, those youngsters got a reality check, as they struggled against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Slow Start to the Series
The Rangers were very sloppy in Game 1 against the Hurricanes. Adam Fox, who excelled at making lead passes out of the defensive zone in the regular season repeatedly turned the puck over. Tony DeAngelo, also struggled with his breakout passes in Game 1 as the Rangers failed to get much going offensively.
The Rangers took seven penalties in Game 1, including many deemed unnecessary. DeAngelo, Brett Howden and Greg McKegg all took silly penalties that were either in the offensive zone or away from the play. Those penalties meant the Rangers spent excessive time on the penalty kill, and it prevented them from getting much momentum going. Carolina scored one power-play goal and scored another immediately after McKegg got out of the penalty box.
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Kaapo Kakko was effective in Game 1 but most of the young Rangers looked sloppy and failed to create many opportunities. The veterans delivered as Henrik Lundqvist played well and Marc Staal scored a goal, but overall, the team was choppy and out of rhythm, which led to a 3-2 loss.
Failing to Produce
The Rangers’ young players had a few good moments but could not convert on any of their opportunities in the series. This season, DeAngelo and Fox both produced offensively with great consistency but they struggled in the series against Carolina. Fox’s struggles stemmed from sloppy passing, which led to repeated giveaways. He also got stopped on one scoring chance in front of the net and failed to record a point in the series.
DeAngelo came into the series dealing with an undisclosed injury. He made a brilliant cross-ice pass to set up a goal in Game 2 but other than that did not do much offensively. He usually uses quick moves to shake off defenders and create opportunities but he was unable to do so against the Hurricanes. It is unknown whether or not the injury played a role in his struggles but he clearly wasn’t the offensive threat the Rangers have become accustomed to.
New York’s young forwards were able to create opportunities but failed to capitalize on them. Kakko looked refreshed after the break and was much more noticeable than he had been in the last couple of months of the regular season. He had the puck on his stick for two two-on-one opportunities. Both times he decided to shoot and both times, Petr Mrazek turned his shot aside. He didn’t have any points in the series.
Howden and Filip Chytil also failed to register points in the series even though both had big opportunities in Game 3. Chytil appeared to have an open net but James Reimer made a diving stick save.
In addition to their offensive struggles, the young Rangers got exposed defensively a few times in the series. After taking a 1-0 lead in Game 3, Marc Staal broke his stick with the fourth line on the ice. McKegg, Phil Di Giuseppe and Julien Gauthier all had opportunities to give Staal their stick but none of them did and it eventually led to Carolina scoring a game-tying goal. Later in the game, DeAngelo and Jacob Trouba both got beat badly on a goal by Sebastian Aho.
In addition to those plays, the Rangers’ young forwards struggled with the physicality of the postseason and lost most of their puck battles. The Hurricanes spent the majority of all three games in the offensive zone. They were the stronger, hungrier team and it paid off for them, as they created more scoring chances in the series.
This series was a reality check for many of the Rangers’ talented young players but it gave them much-needed postseason experience, which will help them in the future. Just as many of the team’s players struggled in their postseason debut this season, Lundqvist also had a difficult first postseason series. He was benched in the first round of the 2006 postseason. However, his poor play in that series has not prevented him from going on to have a Hall of Fame career.
The Rangers’ difficult series against the Hurricanes also does not take away from the impressive strides these players made during the regular season. New York has a very skilled young core and the future is bright for them.
The Rangers have talented young players on their current roster, a deep prospect pool in their system, and two first round picks this season. They also have a 12.5% chance of landing the top pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft (likely Alexis Lafreniere.)
Perhaps getting swept will be a blessing in disguise for the Rangers, who should have high expectations heading into next season.