It’s a little bit dull around Rangerstown these days, given that our beloved Blueshirts did not make the playoffs. I’ve mentioned this on twitter a couple times, but in case that’s not your communicative medium of choice, it’s a kind of an empty feeling walking around midtown Manhattan, and Penn Station especially, without the buzz of the postseason in the air. I almost miss that dumb double-decker bus that does a loop of the lower 30s with all of the gaudy Rangers decorations and shouting Rangers fans on top of it (almost, but not actually).
Still, life, and the playoffs go on, and if you’ve been watching and taking notes (I haven’t actually been taking notes) then you may have made a few observations about what it takes to be successful in today’s NHL past the month of March. Or at least I have, so here’s a few thoughts. Feel free to share yours in the comments as well, because it’s always fun to take postseason hockey.
- You need speed, and not just fast skaters. One of the things that sticks out about a team like Winnipeg is that they make unbelievably quick passes. They know where they want the puck to go almost instantaneously as it hits their stick, with the next move in each player’s mind. It’s good communication, and it’s good coaching, to have every player in sync with each other and a solid game plan mapped out. Creativity is key here too, with the Jets willing to make risky passes in exchange for high quality scoring chances. It doesn’t hurt that they are also one of the youngest teams in the NHL as well, with the accompanying skating speed that comes with it, but the thing that sticks out to me the most is the quickness of mind that they have. Of course, each of the other three teams that are left also seem to have this crispness to their respective games, but Winnipeg is the one that sticks out to me the most (they’re my current favorite of the Conference Finals teams).
- Intensity is key. This is where a good coach and culture come in, much as I decry intangibles (not really, but you might have that perception of me – I just think that they take a subordinate position to skill, but they’re still important). The Vegas Golden Knights for example don’t really have any absolute superstars in terms of skillset, despite their high levels of production from guys like Jonathan Marchessault or William Karlsson. What they have instead is top to bottom intensity; they work hard on and off the puck, and whether you want to call it heart or grit or whatever it shows. A good coach imbues each player with this, and a strong locker room connection puts each player on the same page, so that each guy on the ice and on the bench knows that they need to battle for every puck and never waste an opportunity to make a play. Now, it can be argued that the Rangers weren’t necessarily lacking in this during this past season, just that they weren’t very good skill-wise, but I think the two do go hand in hand. You need a lot of both to make it in the postseason, because teams that come out flat even for a second wind up paying a dire price, and if you’re not quite there for a whole game forget about it (see, Tampa Bay vs. Washington in Game 1). I’m not saying that the Rangers should waste assets and trade up for Brady Tkachuk, but I am saying that the next coach needs to make it clear that work ethic is paramount, and Jeff Gorton needs to be especially attentive in keeping the roster chock-full of guys who have the right mindset.
- You need goals to win games, and lots of them. This is kind of a no-brainer, but it’s worth repeating. I’m not of the opinion, contrary to some twitter thought leaders, that you can’t build a team around a 50-point guy like Lias Andersson, but I will concede that scoring needs to come from somewhere. The 2014 Rangers that almost made it all the way didn’t have any 80-point guys on the roster, but they were scoring by committee. It certainly helps when you have Alex Ovechkin or Patrik Laine, but one way or another your going to need a high level of scoring to make it far. The Rangers notably didn’t have anyone on the team finish the season at the same level of production we’re used to seeing, and that’s, well, bad. Once again, you need goals to win games – the team that scores more wins, period. Whether this comes from high xG or an unusually elevated shooting percentage doesn’t really matter in the playoffs, because if you get it done you get it done. Be it one special player leading the way or the whole team chipping in, you’re not going to make it in the playoffs these days if you can’t get a goal when you need one, and to be quite honest you always need one. Jeff Gorton certainly has his work cut out for him on this front, because if you’re like Winnipeg you really need to hit it out of the park with all of your draft picks to get guys who can score up and down the roster (or if you’re like Washington you need to draft the best goal scorer of the last 30 years, and a solid setup man to boot).
So there you have it, three obvious observations about how to be successful in the modern NHL. While they all sound like no-brainers, I’ll say this: none of the teams that are left play “heavy hockey”, they don’t agitate so much as they play “the right way”, and they have complete rosters that they can depend on night in and night out (unlike say, the Devils, who needed Taylor Hall to carry them to where they ended up and then found themselves faltering when no one else could score).
If you’ve got any other thoughts, disagreements, whatever feel free to leave them in comments, as I am genuinely curious to hear everyone’s thoughts on this years Rangersless playoff campaign. Happy Mothers’ Day too everyone, remember to thank your moms for everything they do, and if that’s not your thing (universal experiences are not quite always universal, and that’s OK) have an excellent Sunday.