The Rangers and Senators officially kick off their series on Thursday night in Ottawa. With four days off between games, the Rangers are going to be able to rest and regroup after a hard-fought Montreal series. Ottawa isn’t as big, but they are quicker and more skilled. Here are three keys for the Blueshirts to be successful and advance to the Eastern Conference Final.
1. Consistent speed
The Rangers finally got their collective acts together in the final three games against Montreal, all wins. They used their speed to wear down the Habs, who were unable to keep up late in games. The Senators are a faster team, but still have a weak blue line and significantly weaker goaltending (not many can match Carey Price).
Consistent speed is a two-pronged attack. The first is generating speed through the defensive and neutral zones on the breakout, resulting in successful zone entries and hopefully sustained pressure.
The second is getting in on the forecheck and forcing turnovers. The Rangers are a tremendous transition team, turning chances from turnovers into quality attempts and goals with great success. If the Rangers allow the Senators, specifically Erik Karlsson, to break out with space, it will bite them.
Henrik Lundqvist outdueled Carey Price last series, and will have to do the same against Craig Anderson in this series. Anderson is no Price, but he’s no slouch either. Justin is going to have a full breakdown of Anderson later this week.
Focusing on Hank, he’s again going to have to cover for any gaffes the defense makes. Based on last series, there will be numerous gaffes, as the Rangers’ blue line depth isn’t a strength. Lundqvist is going to have to be the best player on the Rangers, especially since the Senators have more offensive talent than the Habs.
Timely saves are going to be critical.
3. Converting on chances
I initially wanted to put stronger commitment to team defense as the third point, but went with this instead. Why, you ask? Simple: The Rangers are going to need to score more in this series. The Habs weren’t a talented offensive team. Once Max Pacioretty was shut down, there was limited offense from Montreal.
The Senators are different. Karlsson could be the best offensive defenseman in our generation. The Sens also have three speedy lines that can get in behind the defense and wreak havoc.
Depth scoring is an advantage for the Rangers over most teams, but in this series their top guys are going to have to convert on their chances. They should have more room to maneuver in this series, which plays into their favor.
Teams win Cups by forcing their opposition to play to their style. The team that has to conform to their opposition is doomed. The Rangers forced the Habs to play a speed game, and they won three in a row to close out the series. Keep that in mind as this series starts.