Post Traumatic Yandle Disorder and the Rangers Post Season Hopes
Shades of 2015
In the spring of 2015, the New York Rangers were on their way to winning the President’s Trophy for the most points in the NHL for the 2014-2015 season. They were winning 4 out of every 5 games down the stretch, and most agreed their one weak link was 3rd pair defenseman, John Moore.
So just before the trade deadline the Rangers completed a deal with Arizona that sent Moore, Anthony Duclair a 1st round pick, and a 2nd round pick for defensemen Keith Yandle and Chris Summer and a 4th round pick. This was Ranger management trading some future assets and a top prospect to give that team every chance to win it all.
Fast forward to this year and the Washington Capitals are in the same position, and they did pretty much the same thing. They added a defenseman they were surviving just fine without, to make sure, in the war of attrition that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they were as fortified as they could be.
Trading for Kevin Shattenkirk was a coup for the Caps. Getting a talented puck mover, and keeping him away from the Rangers and Penguins, was making sure their team had the best chance to go all the way.
Can History Repeat?
As we all know, the 2015 Rangers team stalled in the conference finals, bested by Tampa in 7 games. As the end of the season turned into the playoffs, the Rangers were losing defensemen to injury at an alarming rate. They all came back but in the end, 5 of them were compromised and playing hurt to varying degrees.
Basically, what all of this means is no matter how well fortified you may think you are, injuries are the great equalizer. Obviously, the Rangers and their fans are hoping recent history repeats itself in that the potential President’s Trophy winner, Washington, falters in the playoffs.
Best Case Scenario
I wrote a piece a few weeks ago hoping the Rangers would maintain their hold on 7th place, and face teams from the Atlantic, as opposed to grinding through better teams in the Metropolitan division.
If this played out, the earliest the Rangers could play Washington is the conference semi-finals. At that point, fans could hope the Rangers are healthier then the Caps. That would be good fortune, case number one.
They could hope newly acquired defenseman Brendan Smith can solidify the defense corps the way Kevin Klein did in 2014. Or, in another example, Nick Holden, at the beginning of this year. In the cases of Klein and Holden, both were little known players on a middle pair on their respective team. Both played better than they had on those teams, when dealt to New York. Good fortune case number two, would be Brendan Smith upping his game, and playing better with better players.
Good fortune case number 3 would be the Rangers playing to their strengths. Pittsburgh and Washington are teams that have generational great players in Crosby, Malkin and Ovechkin. The Rangers have depth at the forward position.
Their top 3 lines are all strong second lines on any team, and their fourth line is talented enough to be a third line. If that depth can take turns getting hot throughout the tournament, and find a way to get their power play respectable, they have a chance. Whichever Rangers line is matched up against a third pair of defensemen, and bottom 6 forward line, has to produce.
Do The Caps Have Any Holes?
The Capitals are actually really, really, well-equipped. They have the big time star, and they have depth at forward and defense. They are big and they are fast.
Pittsburgh doesn’t feel as deep this year. It seems their secondary scoring isn’t close to as formidable as it was last year. They have already been hit with injuries to their blue line. So, the object here is, play ONE of Pittsburgh OR Washington, not both.
I am not going to discount Columbus or any of the Atlantic division teams. All have strong points, but all have more obvious flaws. On paper, I like the Rangers group much more than I like Montreal. But playing a road series in Montreal can be daunting for the Rangers, considering their history there is sketchy.
There is surely a realistic path to the Cup for this years’ New York Rangers. And, even if everything broke right, it would surely be difficult. Henrik Lundqvist has stolen many a playoff series against better teams. Alex Ovechkin knows that better than anybody. Lundqvist will need his forward group to play, and score, closer to their early regular season numbers, for a change.
Throw in a little luck, and the formula is there for a long playoff run. Getting Kevin Shattenkirk would have helped an awful lot, especially on the power play. But they have to play the hand that was dealt ,and hope it is good enough this year.