As we enter the post-mortem phase of the season, it’s natural to start looking for what went wrong for the Rangers in their 6 game loss to the Florida Panthers. As mentioned yesterday, it’s easy to look to blame one player or one coach or the refs. In reality, there is no one specific thing that caused the Rangers to bow out in disappointing fashion.

Like we said, sometimes you just get beat.

But in the spirit of keeping things going and looking for areas to improve upon, we can at least identify some high level areas for what went wrong for the Rangers.

What went wrong for the Rangers – Florida was simply better

We first must tip our caps to the Florida Panthers. If we need to point to what went wrong for the Rangers, it’s the matchup itself. They were the better team in 5 of the 6 games in the series and deserved to win. Deserving to win doesn’t matter much unless you actually win, and the Panthers did just that. They were better in every facet of the game except goaltending, and I don’t think anyone will argue that.

When one team completely dominates the way Florida did, it’s almost impossible to find one thing that went wrong. But to address the elephant in the room, it wasn’t the officials. We had a lot of problems with the officiating, but getting another powerplay or two wouldn’t have mattered. Even taking away a powerplay or two from the Panthers wouldn’t have mattered.

Florida was faster, more physical, more structured, and beat the Rangers at their own game. We knew going in that Florida was the Rangers toughest opponent yet, and just because the Rangers finished 3 points ahead in the standings doesn’t mean they were the better team. Florida may have caught the Rangers had Aleksander Barkov not been hurt down the stretch.

When a team has everything going for them at 5v5 and then beats you at your own game (special teams), you stand little chance of winning.

Without Igor Shesterkin, the Rangers may have gotten swept.

They couldn’t move the puck

The biggest issue for the Rangers wasn’t about sustained offense. Sure, sustained offense went wrong for the Rangers, but that was a by-product of simply not being able to move the puck. The Rangers couldn’t clear the defensive zone. They couldn’t get clean zone exits. They were shut down in the neutral zone. They couldn’t gain the offensive zone. Nothing worked.

Credit Florida for having a very structured game plan and sticking to it. The Panthers pressured the Rangers defense, a weak spot with puck movement, and forced turnovers regularly. It wasn’t until Game 5 that we saw the Rangers’ adjustments start to take shape. By then, it was too little, too late.

The issue really started at the blue line, hampered by Adam Fox’s injury and a lack of cohesiveness in the defensive zone. There was little puck support until Game 6, and the Rangers were seemingly content to flip the puck out of the zone. After all, that worked in Game 2’s overtime victory, trapping an overcommitting Panthers team with 3 men deep. They adjusted, the Rangers did not.

Aleksander Barkov is the best two-way center in the game

Shutting down Aleksander Barkov was one of the keys to the Rangers success. Perhaps this was a bit too broad, as Barkov was held to just a goal and three assists over the six games, all of them coming in Games 3 and 4. Barkov didn’t kill the Rangers offensively. But in being over simplified, what went wrong for the Rangers was how Barkov killed them.

Instead, he killed the Rangers defensively, completely shutting down Artemi Panarin. If you’re looking to blame Panarin, then you should also blame David Pastrnak (Boston) and Nikita Kucherov (Tampa). At least Panarin was able to get a goal and four points in the series. Pastrnak (1-2-3) was held to fewer points and Kucherov (0-7-7) was held without a goal.

Barkov was the biggest difference maker in the series, shutting down Panarin and playing a critical role in shutting down the Rangers powerplay. Peter Laviolette simply couldn’t get Panarin away from Barkov, much like Jon Cooper and Jim Montgomery couldn’t get Kucherov and Pastrnak away from him. If you want to blame the coach, again by all means go for it. But Laviolette was not the only one.

Mismatched lines and not enough adjustments

One of the key things that went wrong for the Rangers was simply being overmatched by the Panthers. Filip Chytil returned to help stretch the offense, but was misused on the wing in top line minutes. Avoiding the wing vs. center argument, it was clear from the start that he was not the answer to get Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider going. It was also puzzling to “ease him into the lineup” by giving him high pressure minutes against, mostly, the Matthew Tkachuk line.

If we operate under the assumption that Kreider-Zibanejad-Jack Roslovic/Kaapo Kakko here was dead on arrival offensively, then we can simply shift that role to a shutdown role and limit Tkachuk’s line. It’s not ideal, but it’s what Dallas does with Tyler Seguin and it’s worked for them. Ideally, it’s Kakko in that role.

That would have opened a potential Will Cuylle-Chytil-Roslovic line to use Roslovic’s speed down the wing, Cuylle’s ability to get to the net, and Chytil’s vision to dismantle Florida’s bottom six. Instead, Chytil wasn’t moved to center the third line until it was far too late, and it’s not a coincidence that’s the best the Rangers looked all series. It may not have saved the Rangers, but it was worth a shot.

In no world do 1RW minutes have less stress than 3C minutes, especially given how Florida was matching the Rangers up.

But again, if we are pointing to a single lineup decision as what went wrong for the Rangers, then we are missing the point. It wasn’t one thing. It was a collective team issue. That team issue was the Panthers. They were better. It’s a hard pill to swallow.

What went wrong for the Rangers? It was the matchup. Florida was better, plain and simple.


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