While many like to focus on one specific reason behind the demise of the Rangers, it is always a combination of reasons that leads to a team’s demise. Some performances or decisions have more of an impact than others, but there is never one sole reason why a team loses a series. As much fun as it is to point fingers, the reality of the situation is that the Rangers had multiple things that caused them to lose a series that they should have won.
Of course we need to begin with coaching. Alain Vigneault is a good coach, but severely flawed. His flaws are his own undoing. I dove into this yesterday, but AV’s reliance on experience cost him this series. This had many different impacts, from lineup composition to in-game deployments.
Starting with the lineup composition, AV deserves some credit for swapping in Pavel Buchnevich for Tanner Glass after Game 2 in Montreal. AV also deserves some credit for recognizing that Buchnevich looked a little overwhelmed against the Senators, and sitting him for a game. I know it’s hard to believe, but I actually have no problem with re-inserting Glass in that situation.
The problem, at least for me, was after Game 5 when Glass played poorly. Buchnevich was not re-inserted into the lineup. Instead AV relied on Glass and that experience again. Glass was a non-factor in Game 6.
That was just the tip of the iceberg, and AV has earned all the criticism he gets when talking about the blue line. I could go on for years on this, so let’s just stick to the basics. Marc Staal was atrocious, as was Nick Holden. Only Holden saw one game in the pressbox, and that was for Kevin Klein, someone else who can’t skate.
Banished to Siberia was Adam Clendening, who may not be a long-term solution, but was at least a viable solution to the Holden/Staal problem. It’s tough to say whether inserting him into the lineup would have had a positive impact, but considering what we saw from that dynamic duo, what was there to lose?
And that, in turn, led to poor in-game deployment. Three times throughout the playoffs AV leaned on Marc Staal in the final minutes to preserve a lead. Three times Staal was on the ice for the tying goal. Three times the Rangers lose those games. No changes were made. Not even to bench Staal and play Brady Skjei, who had a great playoffs.
AV wasn’t outcoached by Guy Boucher. He was outcoached by himself and his blind loyalty to experience over recent performance.
The Rangers were always a flawed team, but they were good enough to beat an inferior Senators team. The problem was they didn’t consistently execute. Games 3 and 4 were clinics defensively. It was how we expected the Rangers to perform, locking down the high priced real estate and forcing Ottawa to take bad shots.
However that was only for two games. Aside from that, the Rangers tried to run-and-gun against a 1-1-3 (and later 1-3-1) trap, and failed miserably. Sure, they scored a bunch, but they also gave up a lot more. Henrik Lundqvist can only do so much when he is facing second, third, and fourth chances, or when he is facing point blank shots, or when he is facing centering passes to wide open players at the back door.
The execution in their own end was wildly inconsistent, but not as bad as their execution in the offensive zone. Names like Chris Kreider, JT Miller, Kevin Hayes, and Derek Stepan disappeared from the broadcast for long stretches, sometimes games. Four of the top-five scorers in the regular season, 213 points between them, down to 16 throughout the playoffs. Stepan had six points in 12 games, Kreider had four. Hayes and Miller had three each. So much for primary scoring.
But at least Mika ZIbanejad, Rick Nash, and Mats Zuccarello showed up. At least the fourth line contributed. But that’s half the roster that isn’t contributing regularly. You can’t win with half the team serving as passengers.
3. The powerplay
The powerplay converted on just 3 of 39 powerplay opportunities through the 12 games in the playoffs this year. That’s good for a 7.7% success rate and 15th among the 16 playoff teams (St. Louis was dead last at 6.7%). But it’s not just about the goals, which can run dry in a string of bad luck, it’s about the process. And if you’ve been here a while, you know we are big on process.
To be frank, we could spend ages on the powerplay. The lack of a true quarterback showed, as teams didn’t respect the point. The lack of shooters showed, as teams were content to just let the Rangers play catch along the perimeter. The lack of a net-front presence showed, as goalies routinely saw every single shot.
But that’s just scratching the surface. The Rangers failed to get the goalie to move, to present him with difficult shots. They failed to make the defenders move, content to just stand in their 1-3-1 and make the same predictable passes before taking a slapshot from the top of the circle. Some would get deflected, some would be there for a rebound. But for the most part they were swallowed up by the goalie.
You certainly don’t need a great powerplay to succeed in the playoffs, but a great powerplay can get you past subpar even strength play. Since the Rangers were consistently inconsistent at 5v5, their powerplay woes were highlighted and on full blast. After all, I don’t really remember many complaints about the powerplay in Games 3 or 4, just in the games they lost."Three keys behind the Rangers playoff defeat",