The New York Rangers are one weird team. In one day, they make us think they can’t do anything right. Then they rebound and look like the best team in the East. Then they follow that up by giving everyone heart attacks, playing simultaneously the best and the worst hockey we’ve seen. But in the end, it was a deflected Chris Kreider shot that went right to Mika Zibanejad that made us all get noise complaints in our neighborhoods. With one deflection, the Rangers are one win away from the Atlantic Division Final.
This was an odd game. The Rangers were downright bad in the first two periods. They were dominated at both ends of the ice and simply couldn’t get the puck out of their zone. Then they tied it late in the second. They killed two huge penalties before that. And then it was all Rangers. They poured it on while the Habs struggled to deal with their speed. The pressure paid off, as it always does. Proper process breeds success, especially with this level of skill.
On to the goals:
The Rangers are back in Montreal tonight for a pivotal Game 5 after showing some life with a big win in Game 4. The biggest need for the Rangers is to consistently play like they did on Tuesday night. If they do –meaning their process is solid– then they certainly have more skill than the Habs up and down the lineup.
As for the game, this is probably the one that decides the series, at least in my opinion. I think the winner tonight takes the series, so this is a huge one for both teams. The Rangers have had the edge in net all series, with Henrik Lundqvist outplaying Carey Price, but it’s been the process of the 18 skaters that has made the difference.
When teams are struggling to score it’s easy to look down a roster and pick off players with the zeros. While Chris Kreider has been nearly invisible this playoff series, I have noticed that Mika Zibanejad has been getting flack. Zibanejad will forever be linked to Big Game Brass, a fan favorite, and during the playoffs it’s easy to be nostalgic. Zibanejad has only one point thus far, while Derick Brassard has five. It’s easy to see the frustration some fans have for Zibanejad, but that’s a very small window for comparison.
Brassard came to the Rangers during his 25 year old season in the NHL. That is already one later than Zibanejad (who is also five years younger), who just turned 24 a few days ago. Before Brassard came to the Rangers he was seen as a risky center with injury history that had been unable to reach his potential with Columbus. The Rangers helped mold Brassard and utilized his skill properly by placing him with the right players. Low and behold, Brassard blossomed in front of our eyes. So why are we so down on Zibanejad?
The Rangers played their best game of the 2017 calendar year on Tuesday night, evening the series in the process. But now the series turns back to Montreal for a critical Game Five for both clubs. The Rangers are going to try to play the same way they did in Game Four. The Canadiens are probably going to adjust to prevent just that. Naturally, I have some thoughts.
1. Game Five is going to come down to coaching. Claude Julien is going to adjust. He’s going to ensure the Rangers don’t have as much time in the offensive zone. My guess is he’s going to have his defensemen attend to stand up at the blue line, stopping the zone entry and forcing a soft dump to Carey Price to handle. Alain Vigneault’s ability to adjust to Julien’s adjustments will have a huge impact. The most important thing for the Rangers is to continue to gain the zone with speed through the neutral zone.
After a Game 3 that was embarrassing at every level, the Rangers pulled a complete 180 and played the best game we’ve seen them play in quite some time in Game 4. The score showed a close 2-1 game, but the Rangers controlled play in the final two periods. From an execution standpoint, they did everything right.
Aside from everything mentioned in the goal breakdown, the Rangers had a strong showing on the stat sheet too. Only three players sat below a 50% CF% last night: Jimmy Vesey, Dan Girardi, and Ryan McDonagh. That’s not to say that trio had bad games, it’s more that the whole team was able to keep the puck in the Montreal zone.
After Sunday night’s debacle, there was no where to go but up for the Rangers. And boy did they ever go up. The Rangers played their most complete game of the series thus far, and probably their best hockey game of 2017, beating the Habs 2-1 to even the series.
From puck drop, you had the feeling that this was going to be a different game. The Rangers were the first to pucks, they were in on the forecheck, they were driving to the net, and they were getting good chances. When you do that, you create your own luck, as is what happened on Jesper Fast’s opening goal.
But where would the Rangers be without Henrik Lundqvist? Hank again stood tall, and in my opinion has been better than Carey Price all series. He made big saves when they needed them. The defense did a good job clogging the middle and preventing quality chances. The penalty kill was excellent and disciplined as well. Just a good all around win.
On to the goals:
The Rangers embarrassed themselves on Sunday night, putting forth an abysmal effort in a 3-1 loss. After what seemed like a promising start to the series in Montreal, the Rangers have now turned a potential 2-0 series lead into a 2-1 deficit. A more focused effort on offense, getting chances, and actually sustaining a forecheck are a must for the Rangers tonight.
It’s fairly simple for the Blueshirts. They aren’t going to beat Carey Price with clean shots. They are going to need to actually try, actually get to the net, and actually control the puck in order to win. It can’t be the Henrik Lundqvist show every game. They need to support their All-World goaltender. He deserves better.
I spend most of my posts talking about the Rangers’ prospects, but one thing has been eating me alive for the last year and a half. After being blessed by an incredible 2014 team, the New York Rangers seemed poised to become a Stanley Cup contender for the next few years. While I question some decisions made, that 2014 team still had a great 2015 campaign.
But then, all of a sudden, it all just seemed off. There was and still is something missing while watching our boys in blue. For a team that became one of the more successful teams of the decade –with much of it’s core playing more playoff games than most other teams– they seem to be lacking a certain oomph that makes organizations successful. This applies to both the players and the management, for all of the success these men have seen they still seem to have not learned from their experience.
On this week’s episode of the Blue Seat Blogs-Cast the gang talks playoff hockey. We go over what’s ailing this team, what’s up with the Garden crowd, and what other games we’ve been watching. As always you can find us right here, on iTunes, and on SoundCloud. Be sure to leave us reviews and feedback!
Per Dan Rosen, Pavel Buchnevich is skating on the top-six with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. That line is also skating on the top powerplay with Ryan McDonagh and Mats Zuccarello. This is a good indication that Buchnevich will be skating in Game 4, likely at the expense of Tanner Glass. Buch gives the Rangers a must needed skill and goal scoring boost. The full lines: