Note: Goal breakdown will be up this afternoon. Sorry about the delay.
The Rangers won in impressive style in Pittsburgh on Friday night. Impressive because they were hard on the puck, they were opportunistic but most importantly when they lost their lead, they didn’t panic and worked their way back in to a solid position. They handled – at least for game one – the surges that eventually came from Pittsburgh over the final two periods. The Rangers were around Fleury all night which resulted in the game winning goal but which also begs the question; why can’t the powerplay convert?
We’ve mentioned it before but Benoit Pouliot (surely the recipient of a shiny new deal from the Rangers this summer) goes hard to the net and he gets rewarded. The Rangers best line of Zuccarello – Brassard – Pouliot are consistently a creative force and something that is missing from the powerplay, their line is always moving, always busy and always looking for the puck. The fact is, game one of this series would have been won well before overtime had the Rangers managed to convert on the powerplay. The talent is there, the execution isn’t.
The Penguins are too good a team for the Rangers not to take advantage of the opportunities that come their way and live to regret it. The Penguins won’t give the Rangers eleven giveaways each game, just like the Rangers won’t be able to limit their own giveaways to an impressively low four each game and despite what you think of him, the Rangers also won’t get a gift from Marc Andre Fleury each game. In short, the powerplay needs to come through, at least semi consistently, for the Rangers to build on a positive start to this series.
How can the Rangers correct their powerplay? This compressed series may be scheduled too closely together for the Rangers to correct it in the short term but it’s down to Alain Vigneault and his staff to do the one thing they can influence in the immediate upcoming schedule; give the majority of ice time on the powerplay to the Rangers best line.
Mat Zuccarello’s line – as a unit – has not been particularly strong so far in the playoffs but all three players have contributed. Benoit Pouliot has been increasingly strong offensively; Zuccarello has displayed his exceptional vision and shown his usual work ethic while Brassard seems to be coming on after a slow start. Given the assumed extra space with the man advantage the line’s collective creativity and chemistry should pay dividends.
The Rangers won’t get much further in the playoffs without Rick Nash impacting games offensively and without their presumptive top line as a whole being more consistent but the powerplay is the biggest concern. Nash shouldn’t be getting the 3:26 he got in game one. Stepan – above 44% in the face-off circle just three times in the playoffs so far – shouldn’t be getting major PP minutes until he wins more draws consistently. The Rangers need to be less concerned with jump starting individuals and more concerned with jump starting a dormant powerplay.
Nash is critical to the Rangers hopes, but the powerplay more so. Daring to look beyond Pittsburgh, you anticipate teams such as Boston and LA making the final stages of the playoffs. These teams will punish the Rangers physically and will try to take liberties with the Rangers. A respectable powerplay would make clowns such as Brad Marchand and Milan Lucic think twice about a late hit or a slash behind the referee’s back. If the Rangers want to get past Pittsburgh and realistically think Cup run, they need to breathe life in to the powerplay. It needs to start with the Rangers best line as it’s centre piece.