rangers loss tampa ryan lindgren

The Rangers lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning last night in a game that was most likely a preview of their projected first round matchup. The game itself was fine until the Rangers started dropping like flies. Mika Zibanejad missed a portion of the game, and several other Rangers were dealing with bruises from taking pucks to various body parts.

Not every loss needs to be hyper analyzed, but last night’s 6-3 loss, where the Rangers blew a 2-0 first period lead, is a good one to review. Tampa has been responsible for the last two meaningful playoff exits by the Rangers (2015, 2022), and it’s fitting the Rangers will likely need to go through them if they want to make a run this year.

1. Tampa is still well coached – but so are the Rangers

Jon Cooper is a great coach. When the Rangers were up 2-0 in the first, we all knew it was far from over. Despite the overall dominance by the Rangers in the first period, we’ve seen that before. The Rangers had two strong games in 2022, going up 2-0 in the series, before Cooper adjusted and won the next four straight.

The Blueshirts likely shot themselves in the foot in 2015 by dressing a clearly injured Ryan McDonagh. That was the worst playoff game I had seen in a long, long time.

This year is different. Peter Laviolette has shown to be the right coach for this team, and while it was a loss last night, he will adjust. It’s also unlikely the Rangers lose half their roster at times due to blocking shots, but that wasn’t why they lost. Simply put, expect a better showing if they meet in the playoffs, as the Rangers review tape and look to capitalize on Tampa’s weaknesses.

2. This is not the same Tampa team – they can be exploited

The first thing to realize about Tampa, despite the fits they have given the Rangers over the last decade or so, is that the 2023-2024 team is not the same as the other teams. The biggest thing to realize is that Andrei Vasilevskiy is a sub-.900 SV% goalie this year. He’s still very capable of stealing a series if he gets hot, but he’s certainly having a down year.

The overall team defense for Tampa is also not the same. This may be due largely in part to Mikhail Sergachev’s absence for most of the season, and that can’t be ignored, but neither can the overall defense. The Lightning are 9th-worst in the NHL in goals allowed (222, tied with Detroit), and by far the worst among teams locked in for a playoff spot.

Tampa wins by outscoring opponents, but even that is a bit lopsided and top heavy. Of their 227 goals scored (official count is 230, minus 3 “bonus” goals for shootout wins), 75 of them –that’s 33%– have been scored by Nikita Kucherov or Brayden Point. They don’t have the balance they used to have.

The defense is the main problem for Tampa. If we assume that the strong defensive lines –the Zibanejad line and perhaps the Wennberg line– are able to limit Kucherov and Point, then the Rangers have more balance and depth to be able to weather that storm and then exploit the weak blue line and bottom half of Tampa’s roster.

It’s not a guarantee of course, but the Rangers match up against Tampa far better this year than in the past. A series between them won’t be a sweep, but over the course of 5-7 games, the Rangers should be able to show they are the better team with at least closer to equal coaching advantages.

3. One mistake can turn a game

The one thing about Tampa that makes them dangerous is that the one mistake made can turn a game quickly. The Jonny Brodzinski give away was bad, but that wasn’t the mistake. The mistake last night was Panarin misreading Darren Raddysh’s 2-on-1 coverage on what could have been a 3-0 lead.

I can’t find a replay of the particular play, but if you re-watch the game, you see that Raddysh is very clearly playing pass. Using Steve Valiquette’s prior insight on defending 2-on-1’s:

  • If Raddysh’s skates were inside the left circle, he’s playing shot.
  • The ideal place for his skates to take both options is one skate near the circle and the other near the slot.
  • Raddysh’s skates are well to the right of the hash marks, indicating he is covering the pass.

Panarin misread that, and tried to force the pass. The missed opportunity to make it 3-0 quickly turned into a 2-1 game with the Brodzinski turnover at the blue line a minute or so later. Two mistakes, one goal against, and a turning of the tides in the game.

Add in-game injuries to the mix, and the Rangers were playing from behind the second Panarin tried to force that pass. This isn’t to lay all the blame on Panarin. It’s to highlight how one mistake, even if it’s not an egregious mistake, can turn a game against a team like Tampa.

The Rangers won’t be mistake free, but they will learn. This was as good a loss as possible, since it gave the Rangers a lot of tape to work with as they prepare for a long playoff run. Sometimes it’s about the long haul, not the single game.


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