All signs point to an offensive explosion tonight for the Rangers in Game 5
The Blueshirts have scored only 9 goals in 4 games this series. Shockingly, the only game they scored more than 2 was a loss (game 2 / 3 goals). For the series, the Rangers who ranked 3rd overall for the regular season with 3.02 Goals Per Game are averaging just 2.25 so far in the playoffs.
Full credit to the Penguins who realize that without 4 of their better players (F: Pascal Dupuis, D: Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, Christian Ehrhoff) and Evgeni Malkin hampered with a bad back, they needed to focus on locking down the Rangers. They have done so by fine neutral zone play to close the gaps, thus slowing down the Rangers transition game. This tactic has forced the Rangers to play a dump and chase style which isn’t how they usually generate offense.
This tactic is also why the Penguins who themselves were averaging 2.65 Goals Per Game have only mustered 7 in this series (1.75). Facing elimination, the Penguins are going to try and generate more offense as they have been stymied by Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers defense.
The Penguins are averaging just 23.5 shots per game, which is a testament to the Rangers who continue to sparkle on the defensive side of the puck. On the other hand the Blueshirts are averaging 5 more shots per game at 28.5 but could certainly do better. Both teams shooting percentages are hovering close to 8%. This is a far cry for the Rangers who finished the year with a shooting success rate of 9.6% to the Pens 8.4%.
However, tonight the desperate Penguins will likely open it up to try and generate offense. If they do so, it will unchain a Rangers team that is just itching to use their speed. Should they get loose you can expect more odd man rushes that will get Marc-Andre Fleury moving. Once that happens expect a lot of cross ice goals as the Rangers will be looking to expose the weakness in Fleury’s lateral movement.
Keep an eye out on Derick Brassard and Rick Nash if they can use their speed to create two on one opportunities. Then watch as they try and make the cross ice feed to get Fleury moving. Stephen Valiquette highlighted the delay in Fleury’s ability to get across the crease which could mean the bounty of goals we’ve all been waiting for. Another master of this pass is Martin St. Louis who could help Kevin Hayes build off his overtime winner.
The Rangers have a golden opportunity to close out a series early. If they do it will be the first time since 2008 when they eliminated the Devils in 5. As the Washington Capitals and New York Islanders go to game 6 and possibly the distance it would mean time off for the Blueshirts. That will allow them to rest their bumps and bruises, watch game footage and plan to beat whomever comes out of that series.
It is something I fully expect the Rangers to do tonight.