If you were to poll Rangers fans on why they were eliminated from the playoffs in 2007, most would instantaneously answer: Chris Drury.
Of course, it was Drury–then playing for the Sabres–that scored the game-tying goal with 7.7 seconds remaining in Game 5, setting up Max Afinogenov’s game-winner in overtime, but that’s only the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Most people wont remember it was Michal Nylander who lost the crucial faceoff to Drury deep in the Rangers’ zone that allowed Buffalo to even have a chance to knot the game. If Nylander wins that draw, the Rangers take control of the puck and kill off the remaining 16 seconds with ease.
As the Rangers’ desperate grip on Game 5 was pulled from their hands, the Blueshirts headed back to the Garden facing elimination rather than on the brink of earning a trip to the Eastern Conference finals.
Why am I bringing this game up, you ask?
More than likely, those same people who answered Drury to my first question, will answer Marian Gaborik as the reason the Rangers were eliminated by the Capitals last week.
The only thing anyone can remember is Gaborik accidentally jarring the puck from Henrik Lundqvist midway through the second overtime, gift wrapping the game-winning goal for Jason Chimera.
Just like four years prior, when the Rangers were heavily dominated by the Sabres in Game 6 after Drury’s heroics in Game 5, the Rangers were easily removed by the Capitals in the following game.
Gaborik’s mishap with Lundqvist was just the final straw of many that the Rangers had been carrying on their backs all season.
Fortunately for the Rangers, several of those straws can easily be removed next season; without much difficulty.
While a top-tier center is the main target for Glen Sather this offseason, many of the Rangers problems can be fixed in-house–and it all starts with the puck drop.
With the exception of Chris Drury–who was by far the Rangers best center at the dot–all of the Rangers’ pivots should take a summer course with Sidney Crosby.
If one of the best players in the NHL can take the time out of his offseason to improve his game in the faceoff circle, so can the Rangers’ centers.
As awful as the Rangers’ powerplay was this post-season (1-for-20), they were even worse between the hash marks.
Outside of Drury, who won an outstanding 62.9-percent of his faceoffs, the only other Ranger with a respectable FO% was Erik Christensen, with 59.5-percent–although he took the fewest of the Rangers’ four regular centers this postseason.
Besides the Philadelphia Flyers and Vancouver Canucks, no team below the Rangers in postseason faceoff percentage advanced to the second round of the playoffs.
While Brad Richards will obviously fill the gaping hole of a play-making center and powerplay quarterback in the Rangers’ lineup, he will not help them on the draw–especially on the powerplay.
Richards only won a mediocre 50.6-percent of his faceoffs this season and hardly takes draws with the man-advantage.
The Rangers can add all the offensive weapons they like on the powerplay to help generate goal production, but if they continue to spend 75-percent of their time with the man-advantage chasing the puck and regrouping after the other team wins the draw and clears the zone, it’s not going to make a difference.
If you look around the league, the teams with the most dominant powerplays not only had an exceptional cast of offensive awareness on the ice, but they all had an elite draw taker starting the play as well.
Vancouver has Ryan Kesler, who won a phenomenal 57.4-percent of his faceoffs, while Chicago has Jonathon Toews, who won 56.7-percent. San Jose sports Big Joe Thornton and Detroit has Pavel Datsyuk. Now of course all these aforementioned names are big-ticket players, but the Rangers need to develop the youth that they have into profitable centermen.
In an otherwise flawless rookie campaign, Derek Stepan won an abysmal 38.5-percent of his draws, while sophomore Artem Anisimov won a slightly better 44.5-percent.
Luckily for the Rangers, this can be easily adjusted with nothing other than hardwork during the offseason, as Kesler, Thornton, Datsyuk and even Crosby were well under 50-percent on the draw during their early years of their careers.
If the Rangers succeed at fixing this problem, that’s one less straw on their backs in 2012.