The Rangers had their first postseason loss on Saturday night, falling 2-1 to the Devils in overtime. Despite the loss, there isn’t as much panic around the team. They, for the most part, controlled play. They generated offensive zone time at 5v5 and on the powerplay, just Akira Schmid had himself a night. Add in the extra pass the crept into their game, and the loss felt more painful in the moment than it does now. With Game 4 tonight, the Rangers have a chance to take a stranglehold on this series, and as a Rangers Game 4 preview, there are 10 things to watch for that will set the tone.
1. Enough with the extra pass. Sometimes, and especially with a rookie netminder, you just need to shoot the puck. Schmid made some good saves, but he got bailed out by the Rangers forcing the extra pass.
2. Speaking of that extra pass, just take the shot if there’s a lane. Schmid is still a rookie, and while he was exceptional in Game 3, there’s no guarantee he does it again.
3. Keep getting sticks in passing lanes in the neutral zone. Disrupting the Devils on the rush is great, but transitioning to a quick rush the other way is even better.
4. K’Andre Miller and Jacob Trouba need to be better. Per Natural Stat Trick, they are dead last on the Rangers in xGA/60 and HDCA/60, so they are giving up a lot of quality. Igor Shesterkin is certainly masking their issues right now, but this may come back to bite them.
5. To add context, it does seem that Trouba and Miller get most of the defensive zone faceoffs, which would be a contributor to their horrible defensive numbers. They are being used as the shutdown pair, which again is fine, just prefer to see them more effective. This is where zone finishing stats –what zone their shift ends in– would be helpful.
6. The powerplay needs to continue humming along. They were never going to be a 40% powerplay team, even in the playoffs, but in Game 3 they became a little more predictable. Their best look as Mika Zibanejad’s bumper one timer that Schmid got with his blocker in the first period. It seems the right circle is being covered, and now they are cheating towards Chris Kreider in front. Bumper one timers are a good option.
7. But bumper one timers are only a good option if Artemi Panarin and/or Patrick Kane shoot from the off-wing. Kane (7) and Panarin (9) have the shot attempts. Kane has 4 SOG, but only 1 has gone on net for Panarin, with 7 missing entirely. Hit the net, Panarin.
8. Niko Mikkola and Braden Schneider have been low-key solid for the Rangers. Their depth is winning the battles, and they need to continue to do so. They are giving up a decent amount of shot attempts, but they are from the outside, so they are playing positionally sound defense.
9. The Kid Line has been dominant at even strength, to the point where they are the only line over 50% shot share and xG share. It seems they are ready to take over a game, and it’s just a matter of time.
10. Igor Shesterkin.