Even strength play needs to get better

The Rangers made it through the regular season by dominating teams at even strength. Their powerplay was nothing to write home about, and it was actually considered the biggest weakness in their game. But now, four games into the series with Ottawa, the Senators have managed to expose the Rangers at even strength. The last even strength goal: Brian Boyle’s goal in the third period of Game Three. The one before that? Boyle’s goal in the third period of Game Two.

For those keeping track, that’s two even strength goals in seven periods of hockey. That is not what made the Rangers the top seed in the Eastern Conference. They have a lead in even strength goals (7-6 thus far), but considering the weaknesses of the powerplay*, there needs to be a wider gap.

*-Statistically the Rangers powerplay isn’t awful this series, but it cost them Game Two. Timing is everything with powerplay goals.

The biggest offenders at even strength are the two guys that were signed to provide scoring for the Rangers: Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards. Both have just one even strength point (a goal a piece). Simply put: they need to be better at even strength.

The Senators aren’t exactly a defensive juggernaut, but they have managed to hold the Rangers to two goals or less in three of the first four games. Only Game One saw a successful Rangers attack at even strength. As Suit pointed out, the Senators aggressive hybrid trap has the Rangers running around in their own zone, and seemingly unable to get anything going on offense.

It isn’t just the goals either. The Rangers appear to be running around like a bunch of chickens with their heads cut off. The Senators have the puck way too much. You can’t score if the other team has the puck for the majority of the even strength game.

Perhaps they are missing Carl Hagelin, who was their best puck possession forward at even strength all season. He has the speed to keep up with the Senators as well.  Missing Hagelin is part of the problem, but an even more alarming problem is that the Rangers seem to have no answer for Zenon Konopka, which is astounding to say the least. Konopka has been a whiz in the faceoff dot and has created havoc in front of Henrik Lundqvist. He and Chris Neil are the most dangerous Senators this series, which is scary considering Erik Karlsson and Jason Spezza haven’t really gotten going yet.

This is where coaching needs to play a part in the adjustments. The Senators adjusted to the Rangers attack after Game One. The Rangers have not adjusted to the Senators defense. They are going with “ole reliable”, which is no longer working for them.

The series isn’t over, and the Rangers have a clear advantage because they have Lundqvist and home ice advantage. But, I am as worried now as I was at the start of the series, but for completely different reasons. In the playoffs, a team needs to get better in each successive game. The Senators have gotten better, the Rangers have not. That is what scares me right now.

10 Responses to “Even strength play needs to get better”

  1. Matt J says:

    Our guys can’t win draws for their lives. It’s beginning to really hurt the team defensively as well as the power play.

    Also, this whole sitting on the lead thing isn’t working. The Rangers got up by 2 goals last game and really made no effort to try to add to it until the game was tied. Torts needs to stress that you can still play a defensively sound game while trying to score goals in the process, because the Rangers have begun backing over their blue line because they’re “scared”.

    Be interesting to see for game 6 who sits for Hagelin. I’d also like to know if the Senators still want blood for the hit on Alfredsson. Maybe they’ll take some dumb penalties trying to take him out all night and hopefully they’re dumb enough to do that.

    • VinceR says:

      It’s important to remember how much of the time it was 2-0, 2-1 that was during special teams play. I felt they were trying and had opportunities outside the special teams play, but were just being dominated…I don’t think they were purposefully dumping and sitting back, Ottawa was just dominating within the NYR zone and we were scrambling.

      Amen on the draws though (part of the reason we get dominated during stretches).

  2. Chuck A. says:

    Rangers – as they’ve shown all season, time to man up!
    Senators – per “Hockey’s Future” (http://www.hockeysfuture.com/nhl_organisation_rankings/), this will be a team to reckon with in years to come. But not this year!

  3. Walt says:

    Hay guys, when in the history of the play-offs have the big scorers been the men to carry their teams? History has shown that more times than not they draw the best checkers the other teams have, and that opens the ice up for the secondery scorers.

    I’m not saying there aren’t cases where the big names carry teams, but use Richards as an example. He centered the second line for Tampa, while St Louis, and Lacavalia, skated on the first line, and drew the most attention. Richards went on to win the MVP, again because he carried the team, not the other two players.

    Here comes my broken record, Torts has to let these guys play their game, and not sit back on a lead. If you watched the Pens blow out the Flyers the other night, with the score 10-3, and minutes left to go, the Pens are on the PP, Blysma calls time out to draw a play up for the Pens. That is piling on, but the guy says go and crush them. That is the kind of coach we need, get the killer instinct in our players. I’ll bet anyone a thousand dollars that if the Sens are ahead, they would continue to try and pile on!

    • VinceR says:

      Still don’t buy that it’s the strategy Walt…the Sens are pressing while they are down and their relentless pursuit is causing breakdowns in our own zones. We are having trouble keeping puck possession because of this aggression.

      I don’t think Torts was telling them to stop attacking after the first period last game. In fact, there was so much special teams play, I’m not sure how you can tell what the strategy was, but I will assume it was the same one we have been seeing all season.

      Also remember we don’t have Haggy causing havoc on the puck, but when the big forechecking lines are out there (say Rupp) we seem to be getting time in their zone. Our top two lines are just having a time of keeping puck possession in the zone, I don’t think it’s a matter of strategy to say “hey, we are up two in the first, that should do it…let’s sit back, what could possibly happen?” :)

      I mean then again I’m not in torts head, but I just don’t see why he would all of a sudden think that it’s a good strategy. I think it’s more of the case of the sens pressing when they are against the wall.

      • Walt says:

        That goes back to what I said earlier in the week, to put Scott in for one game, sit Mitchell, and let them have to deal with that load. Look, the 4th line playes only 3-4 minutes a game, how much damage can Scott due for us. He could kick the shit out of Neal, or Koko the clown, and maybe give us a boost.

        • VinceR says:

          I’m worried about Scott in the defensive zone…he just can’t skate. In fact even in the offensive zone I’m not sure he can keep up enough to even forecheck.

          He would be good if this series was still out of control and some goonery was necessary, but I just don’t think he offers more than his fists.

          All in all I’m thinking we pull off game 5 at home and we have Haggy back in game 6 and close it out. Even getting out played as we are they still haven’t won a game without overtime, so I have a good feeling that we can put a couple of solid games together to close this out.

  4. VinceR says:

    Quote from an article by Dave Lozo today concerning the blown leads. Mentions that in game 2 they admit they may have went into a defensive shell (although does not mention it was the strategy).

    However concerning game 4, here’s a quote by Richie:
    “”We want to make it 5-0,” Richards said. “We’re not going out there saying it’s over. I can’t say I want to see the guys try more or want it more. We want to win. We wanted to get the third goal. We wanted to get the fourth goal. We don’t want to make it 2-2, but we have to realize they have 20 guys over there that are pretty good players and they’re trying to do the same thing. They don’t want to make it 3-0. They’re trying to make it 2-1.”

    Some bits in the article of Torts talking about trying to get that third goal and make it 3-0 and having the momentum swing when they couldn’t do it.

    Full article:

    http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=628898