AnalysisHockey TacticsPlayoffs

Is there a “good” first round matchup for the Rangers?


Pick a team, any team...
Pick a team, any team…

With the Rangers finally clinching a playoff spot last night with their win over Carolina, the final game of the season against the Devils has lost some significance.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m tremendously grateful that the boys from Newark don’t get to play spoiler against us a week after we eliminated them from postseason contention.  However, the game could be important when it comes to shuffling out the bottom of the Eastern Conference deck.

The Rangers, Islanders and Senators currently sit 6-8 in the East with 54 points.  The Sens hold a game in hand on both the Rangers and Isles.  At the moment, the Rangers hold the tiebreaker with 21 regulation wins to the Senators’ and Islanders’ 20.  As we know, the Rangers only remaining opponent is New Jersey on Saturday, while the Isles only have lowly Buffalo remaining, and Ottawa has Philly and Boston.  The final few games could have the bottom three spots in the conference shake out in a number of ways.

This got me thinking, out of the four possible opponents for the Blueshirts in the first round, is there really a preferred matchup?  As the standings currently, well, stand, the Rangers could potentially matchup against Pittsburgh, Boston, Washington, or slightly less likely Montreal.  Let’s have a gander at how the Rangers match up against each one…

Pittsburgh Penguins

If it wasn’t for the absurd start to this season by Chicago, the hockey world might be more aware of what an absolute wrecking ball the Pittsburgh Penguins are.  This team is bursting at the seams with talent, to the extent that it could lose Crosby, Malkin, Neal and Letang for extended periods of time throughout the season and still run away with the conference.  Fortunately, most of the Pens talent lies up front.

Aside from the circus that was the Pittsburgh/Philadelphia series last season, generally speaking, the playoffs are an offensively depressed environment.  This is really the biggest weakness for Pitt.  Aside from Brooks Orpik, none of the Pens defenders are particularly good, well, defensively.   Marc-Andre Fleury is another performance wild card.  The Flower has had an solid, but unexceptional year and although I am a big fan of his talent, he is prone to streaky play and has a tendency to fall apart after a bad goal or two.

From a systems standpoint, the Penguins play the same 2-1-2 forecheck that the Rangers employ, and a hybrid strong side overload/low zone collapse in their own end.  They utilize the standard umbrella powerplay and diamond penalty kill that most NHL squads prefer.  As Dave mentioned the last time these teams met, there are no surprises here.

Boston Bruins

The Bruins are a strange case.  They are obviously a well constructed, talented roster, but part of me thinks they might be the best matchup for the Rangers.  The Bruins have the offensive talent to play a run and gun style, but generally speaking, they play a more defensively responsible system, as their 1-2-2 and 1-4 hybrid trap will show.  They are used to playing low-scoring, tight checking games and picking their spots on the counter.

Boston employs several large players on the blue line, which is the backbone of their physical style.  They don’t call them the big, bad Bruins for nothing.  Zdeno Chara is likely to make life difficult for Rick Nash, which means the team’s new found offensive balance will have to play a major role in any Rangers’ victory.

Tuukka Rask is having a quietly Vezina caliber season in Boston and is quickly emerging as a borderline elite number-one starter.  He’s not going to make it easy on any opponent the B’s take on the first round.  And none of this even touches on Milan Lucic, Tyler Seguin, or Brad Marchand.  The Bruins are a deep team.

Washington Capitals 

The Caps are a difficult team to nail down.  After an absolutely dreadful start under freshman coach Adam Oates, it seems the team is starting to drink the kool-aid.  His systems are complicated, as every basic system the Caps run is a hybrid of some sort.  Oates employs a hybrid 1-2-2/2-1-2 forecheck, a hybrid overload/low zone collapse defense, and a hybrid 1-3-1/umbrella powerplay.  The only thing simple is their diamond penalty kill.  You can see why it took 20 games for the lads to get it all sorted.

And while all of this was happening, Alex Ovechkin got an Olympian fiancee, a buzz cut, went gray and all of a sudden finds himself at the top of the NHL’s goal scoring race.  Braden Holtby has started to reign in his aggressiveness and round into form, and should be a very difficult assignment.

The Caps are probably the most flawed team the Rangers could matchup against from a roster construction standpoint, but are well coached, dangerous offensively and heating up at the right time.

Montreal Canadiens

The Habs are probably the least likely matchup for the Rangers in the first round.  They currently sit at 61pts, tied with Boston, who has a game in hand.  The Habs do have the tie breaker on regulation wins, but only by one.  The team that ultimately emerges will get the number two seed and the Northeast Division title, and the other will take the number four seed, and a date with the Leafs.

As we all know, the Habs have been an absolute nightmare for the Rangers recently, and the Bell Centre has been a house of horrors for our beloved goaltender.  The Canadiens are small, quick, aggressive and seem to just have the Rangers number, especially in their own barn.

From an X’s and O’s standpoint, they are another group that uses hybrid systems.  Under new coach Michel Therrien, the Habs utilize a hybrid 1-2-2/2-1-2 forecheck, similar to the Caps.  Their defensive system is a little different.  They use an overload strategy at first, mostly due to their overall team size to force turnovers along the wall.  Once the opposing team gains control, they switch to a low zone collapse.

Special teams are a little less interesting, using an umbrella powerplay and switch between diamond and box penalty kill formations depending on the oppositions powerplay.

The extent to which the discussion has focused on team systems shows how the Habs do not heavily rely on a small group of superstar players.  They have some very good ones; Brian Gionta, Tomas Plekanec, Rene Bourque and presumable Norris finalist PK Subban, but they play a very team oriented game.  Also, although he has struggled of late, Carey Price is still one of the best goalies in the NHL.  This is a very dangerous team.


In the “new” NHL where parity is king, there are no “good” playoff matchups in the traditional sense.  Given the scorching hot play of the Caps, our difficulties with Montreal and the general awesomeness of Pittsburgh, I guess I’ll take Boston by default.  But you know what they say, you reap what you sow…

What do you think BSB faithful?  Now that the Blueshirts have locked up a spot in the dance, who is your preferred first round matchup?  Sound off in the comments below.

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  • Quite frankly, the Rangers are capable of beating anyone of the top 4, including the hated Habs. The pesky Penguins are the “favs” but have been the “favs” before and fell flat on their face. This could be a year when all 4 of the bottom 8 going into the first round of the playoffs….all upset and win their series that’s how tight things are in the East.

    • As much as I love my Rangers, I’m not so sure the team has shown the ability that they could beat any good team in a best of 7. I appreciate your optimism though.

  • I think that the Pens may play an umbrella powerplay, but they have a Totes and ours is more like the $5.00 ones they have on the street when it rains. Clearly the cream of the crop. Bruins are tough to figure, but the challenge with them is the trap. We have some issues breaking into the zone when trapped. This also means the 3rd & 4th line play a more significant role as “muckers” if we dump and chase. I can’t figure out why we have trouble with the Habs, we should beat them. When all is said and done, a goalie and a star usually carry a team. We have them so drop the puck already.

  • Over the last two years, the Bruins have dominated the Rangers based on puck possession.

    Looking solely at Corsi stats for these matchups, the NYR should want to play, in descending order

    Habs (+7.33 avg Corsi over 3 games)
    Pens (+6 avg Corsi over 5 games)
    Caps (+5 avg Corsi over 3 games)
    Bruins (-11 avg Corsi over 3 games).

    The averages get a little skewed because of the small amount of games, and they contain some very unusual numbers, like +30 against the Pens (2-1 SO loss), a +20 against the Caps (2-1 win).

    But for what its worth, the NYR were +Corsi for all 3 Habs games, and -Corsi for all 3 Bruins games.

  • I agree that Boston would be the best matchup by default. Really anyone except Montreal. Playoffs are a different season though. We play equally as bad against montreal and ottawa, but managed to squeak out a win against ottawa in last year’s playoffs. Anything can happen, previous matchups don’t really apply. With that said, I see Pitt and Washington making deep playoff runs. Teams fail and fail in playoffs, until they don’t. For instance, Boston a few years ago. They blew playoffs year after year with high expectations, until they didn’t. Washington fits into that category. The rangers need a year or two more playoff experience before they are ready for a real cup run, but anything can happen.

  • I would say any of the teams but the Canadiens. The Rangers seem to play well when the other team is playing too and when they play ‘inferior’ teams that block the crease they seem to have difficulty unless they score early.

    The thing I like about the team is that we can mix our tactics up a bit, by going for speed, skill or a bit more grinding. The attack does not have to be one-dimensional and therefore might be hard to defend in 4-7 games…

    The biggest concern I see, is the fourth line, or perhaps not somebody around who really can get under someone’s skin, to take a skilled player off his game. A Neil, or Avery (who I’m not advocating right now btw.) The fourth line is to me not too impressive.

    But we’ll see in a couple of days!!

  • I just want really anyone but Pittsburgh and the media frenzy that occurs when they are in the playoffs.

    Rangers are really playing with the houses money this year so let’s see them give it their best shot.

  • Anyone but the Caps… I just am tired of Rangers/Caps. Poor reasoning, but at least playing the Bruins would be fun.

  • Believe our best opponent in the first round would be Boston. NYR match up well against Bruins – similar style. The KING seems to have their number.

  • I tend to really like how the current 1-8 standings line up.

    (1) Penguins/Islanders (8) would be a fun series, with some recent bad-blood between these two organizations and an Islanders team that is playing out of its mind, yet with little pressure. I could see an Isles upset here.

    (2) Bruins/Rangers (7) would be an epic, Original Six series that hasn’t manifested in 30+ years. The way these two teams play, and have matched up against one another the last three seasons, this has all the makings of some intense, close playoff hockey. Plus, I’m sick of Rangers/Capitals, so this would be my ideal Rangers matchup.

    (3) Capitals/Senators (6), I think, would be a nice matchup between two very interesting teams. The Caps have, by all accounts, underachieved all year until this final push, which now has Ovi and Holtby playing at elite levels. The Senators have, on the other hand, tended to overachieve all season considering the decimating injuries they’ve endured. But, with Anderson in form, and Karlsson back, this could be interesting.

    (4) Canadiens/Maple Leafs (5)… an epic Canadian rivalry. Need I say more?


  • Classic be careful what you wish for scenario, but as I’ve said before, I think Boston is the best matchup for the Rangers. Speed tends to be the common thread for teams that handle the Rangers consistently. Boston is not a plodding team, but I think they play slower than most playoff teams in the EC. They are also limping into the playoffs right now, and may be ripe for the picking (if Montreal doesn’t overtake them, which is unlikely).

  • A final note on the Rangers unexpected on-the-bubble season. I know a lot of fans are disappointed that it took 47 games for this team to clinch a playoff spot. People lament the lack of overall dominance and appear flabbergasted that this team had to actually fight for a playoff spot, against uninspiring teams such as Florida and Carolina no less.

    To this, I have a couple of responses. First of all, current positions in the standings are essentially irrelevant in the NHL (see 2012 LA Kings). This is an elite league, with tremendous talent throughout. On any given night, any team can upset any other team. The Rangers lost a tough one the other night to a Florida team most felt they should have dominated. Well, this is the sport we love, and sometimes a hot goalie, i.e. Markström, can stop even the best Corsi numbers. People who predict outcomes based on the standings simply don’t appreciate the game.

    Secondly, why this Rangers team even found themselves in a position where they needed wins against sub-par, non-playoff teams to clinch in the final days of the season, well, I chalk that up to a number of factors that shouldn’t be understated. The lock-out led to a lot of wacky phenomenons. The Devils made the Finals last year; they didn’t even clinch the playoffs this season. The Blue Jackets were dead-last last year, they can clinch the 8th seed this season. It’s been a strange year, made all the more interesting for the Rangers by the incredible level of personnel turnover in the off-season and at the trade deadline. Sorry to say, folks, but this isn’t the same team from last year that finished atop the Eastern Conference and made their way to the Conference Finals. Losing Dubinsky, Mitchell, Fedotenko, Anisimov, Prust, etc. took its toll, and despite some important acquisitions, we found out during the first half of the season that these players really hadn’t been replaced. We did add Nash, but Gaborik subsequently disappeared. It really wasn’t until the trade deadline that the Rangers truly filled the holes made from the off-season departures. Gaborik was let go, which leaves Nash to fill that role exclusively, and in exchange, the Rangers brought in Brassard, Dorsett, Moore and Clowe. The Staal injury notwithstanding, the Rangers have rebuilt their roster in a way the better reflects lasts years composition. And since the trade deadline, the Rangers have went 8-3-1, and 9-3-1 in the month of April. They are one the League’s hottest teams heading into the playoffs. Imagine where they could finish if they had another 34 games to work with…

    One final note. Everyone seems to forget the bumpy road to the Conference Finals last year. We look at the 109 regular season points, and the Conference Finals appearance and we seem to be under the impression that the Rangers team last year simply dominated and rolled through competition. If that’s your recollection, then I guess you can be excused for overreacting to these edge-of-your-seat games the Rangers have played. Does no one recall that it took 7 games to get past Ottawa, and another 7 games to defeat Washington last year? Does no one recollect Richards miraculously tying the game with 6.6 seconds left in Game 6, to stave off going down 3-2 in the series, and Staal’s subsequent OT winner? Have we forgotten triple OT against Washington? Last year was no cake-ride. We shouldn’t expect any different this year. This team has changed alot since last year, and yet, they are now remarkable similar.

    Let’s have faith. The first step has been achieved. We’re in the playoffs. It’s all history now. If the 2011-12 NY Rangers soared to the heights they ultimately did, there is no reason that this new 2013 Rangers team can’t surprise us again. Let’s Go Rangers! Bring on Boston!

    • “To this, I have a couple of responses. First of all, current positions in the standings are essentially irrelevant in the NHL (see 2012 LA Kings)”

      Ugh…This is going to be the new standard response for low seeded teams, isnt it? Before LA won last year, the lowest seeded team to win the Cup in the 20 years the NHL has used the 1-8 conference seeding format was the Devils, as a 5th seed, in 1995 (the lockout shortened year). The Kings are very much the outlier, and probably will continue to be so.

      Lots of other good stuff in your comment.

      • Agreed. What happened last year was a very unlikely scenario. Teams like last year’s Kings, the 2013 Rangers, and other low seeded teams lack the consistency to make a run through 4 rounds of playoffs (generally), which is why they are low seeds to begin with. I think the Rangers are who they are this season and would need a NY Giants-like hot stretch to win this thing.

      • Pops~

        The sentence you cite wasn’t supposed to be taken as a prediction of the Rangers taking the Cup; I was speaking more to the expectation that the 8th seed Rangers should dominate the 30th place Panthers. It doesn’t work that way. Panthers did win 13 games this year, against a lot of good teams. There should never be an absolutist expectation based off the standings.

        • Nice post Chris, I am so happy the Rangers made it! If they are to continue to the cup, they must stay fresh, and that means a couple of short series. Because torts will rely heavily on his top guys in the playoffs, we can’t have multiple 7 game series.

    • This Ranger team is NOT the LA Kings of last year, who just went on a tear the last 12 regular season games or so and carried it through the playoffs. The Rangers have been inconsistant, and show signs of breakdowns on deffensive coverage.Yes you finished 8-3, but aside from that 6-1 Pittsburgh win, the wins came mostly from non playoff teams. Pittsburgh and Boston have 4 solid lines for the most part. I don’t see that with the Rangers.

  • Not sure if fans are aware that the Kings we’re supposed to be one of the top 3 teams in the West before the season started last year. They underachieved all season, snuck in, but got hot when it counted. People are making it out to be as if they were this cinderella club, which was not the case. So if anything, we ARE a lot like like em this year.

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