Rangers can learn from Bruins and Islanders first round wins

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Feb 15, 2018; Brooklyn, NY, USA; New York Islanders center Casey Cizikas (53) put New York Rangers right wing Jesper Fast (17) into the boards during the first period at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

As Chris Drury sets out to revamp his bottom six this offseason, he can learn a lot from the two teams that have advanced in the East Division’s first round.

The Bruins knocked off the Capitals in five games. The Islanders beat out the Penguins in six. Better goaltending ultimately won the day for each of those teams, but so did style of play and old-fashioned grit. Both Boston and the Isles brought it in their series’, as they beat down their opponents in the process.

Offense is nice, but tough team defense and hard hockey prevail in the playoffs

The Bruins were considered a one line team this season. That prompted them to go out and acquire Taylor Hall at the deadline. An astute move for sure. Tuukka Rask was the clear better goalie than anything the Caps could muster, but it was the hard-nosed play from the entire team that won the day.

Washington scored 3.56 goals per game to Boston’s 2.93. That’s a .63 goals per game difference coming into the series. However, to a man the Bruins played fast and physical and wore down the Capitals. For all the offense the Caps had in Ovechkin, Backstrom, Carlson, Kuznetsov, Oshie, and Wilson they found it hard to cut through the Bruins defense.

Meanwhile, the Isanders were the beneficiaries of some of the worst display of modern goaltending we’ve seen in ages. Tristan Jarry was abysmal with a .888 SV% in this series, but it would be wrong to dismiss what the Islanders rotation of four lines and in-your-face style of play did to the Penguins.

The Islanders came into this series with the Penguins scoring .74 more goals per game. Barry Trotz’ system and demand to play aggressive hockey for 60+ minutes rendered that moot. No Islander averaged more than 19:22 minutes in this series and that was Josh Bailey. The Isles best offensive player, Mathew Barzal was third in ice time at 19:01 for context. By the way, Bailey had 4 more points than Sidney Crosby in this series who finished with 2.

Effective bottom six and balance key to playoff success in East/Metro Division

rangers casey cizikas
Bruce Bennett/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Bottom six players on both the Bruins and Islanders were extremely effective in their teams’ series win. The Islanders fourth line of Cal Clutterbuck, Casey Cizikas, and Matt Martin are the envy of most NHL squads. In the series, Clutterbuck averaged 14:07, Cizikas 13:57, and Martin 12:56. As a line they had a +/- rating of +3 while the Pens fourth liners were a -4. Cizikas also dominated in the face-off circle with a 66.3 winning percentage.

The Bruins fourth line had center Curtis Lazar play an average of 11:52 and win 58.8% of his draws. Other bottom six players like Sean Kuraly, Nick Ritchie, Charlie Coyle, and Jake DeBrusk gave the Caps fits. DeBrusk in particular scored twice and added an assist in five games with just 13:41 of ice time.

These examples are why it is imperative that Chris Drury balance his lineup. The Rangers third and fourth lines need to be the Yin to the top six’s Yang. There needs to be a lot more sandpaper that can contribute offensively than what Filip Chytil and either Kappo Kakko or Vitali Kravtsov can offer.

Players that fit the bill are Jordan Martinook in Carolina, Black Coleman in Tampa, and the aforementioned Cizikas. The Rangers already some players like that in the lineup in young Morgan Barron and Kevin Rooney. The key is to make sure that the players eating up valuable minutes know their role and are effective at doing it.

This is also not a call to dump Kakko for a grinder, or Kravtsov for that matter. Only the most narrow-minded person would read it that way. It’s about balance in the lineup, and it’s Chris Drury’s job to find it.

Stats via NHL.com

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Anthony Scultore is the founder of Forever Blueshirts and has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL... More about Anthony Scultore

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