The Rangers are losing because they’re hitting too much? Please stop the nonsense

McDonagh battles in gm 2 (Bernard Brault)

Now I’ve heard it all…the Rangers lost game 3 because they were too focused on hitting and not on out skating the Canadiens. What? Really!!!

The Premise For the Argument

The narrative now being pushed by the fancy stats crowd is the Rangers have abandoned their skill game that made them successful during the regular season to play a more physical style. Funny they didn’t say peep for 5 periods, 19 minutes, and 42.7 seconds until the Habs tied game 2 late.

Now all of a sudden the Rangers are too focused on hitting. A narrative now being peddled by Patrick Kearns in SI. The premise for the article, the Rangers must abandon the notion of “playoff hockey” because he said so. I really find it amusing that these new age hockey writers seem to want to change the game in their gentler image and ignore basically 100+ years of hockey truth.

Somehow, he and many in the stats crowd have come to the conclusion that because the Rangers went from averaging 20.9 hits per game in the regular season (when they were the  Softshirts) to 53.3 per in the playoffs, they have abandoned the skill game. Funny he also cites Montreal jumped from 22.73 to 44.76, but doesn’t tell them to stop playing “playoff hockey”.

Let me present something to everyone just to wrap their heads around. The Rangers aren’t struggling to score in the playoffs because of hitting. They’ve been struggling to score since mid-February.

NYR 2016-17 GFA V GAA

So I could stop right there and it should be enough. However, I won’t.

The Funny Thing About Hitting

When you hit in the offensive zone, that’s a good thing. It means you are putting pressure on the opposition and forcing them to make quick plays. If it works, you can cause a turnover, if it doesn’t it still puts a physical toll on the player in a 7 game series.

If you are hitting in the defensive zone too often, that’s a problem. It means you don’t have the puck and the opposition is controlling play. This was the case for the most part in game three.

Now, I think we can all agree that the Rangers were pretty effective in Montreal. They were hitting and causing turnovers. It led to a game one win and nearly a 2-0 lead in the series if not for a failed clear by Michael Grabner and a Nick Holden disastrous shift.

  • Thru 2 games in MTL the Rangers averaged:
    • 17 Hits per period
    • 24 turnovers per game
  • In Game 3 at MSG the Rangers averaged:
    • 13.6 Hits per period
    • 15 turnovers ONLY

Can someone explain to me how those numbers made the stats crowd walkaway from game 3 that the Rangers were TOO FOCUSED on hitting.

Being Fancy Was the Problem!

Stop me if this sounds too familiar from game 3, “[Insert any NYR forward’s name on the top 3 lines] tries to weave his way into the Montreal zone, rubbed out, [Insert Canadiens name here] sends it the other way.”

That’s what happened repeatedly in game 3, except if you were the Rangers 4th line who would not fall for the that trap and actually dumped the puck in to gain the zone. Don’t  believe me? Well take it from one of the fancy stats data gathers who is monitoring zone entries and look how unsuccessful the Rangers were carrying the puck into offensive zone compared to Montreal.

Matter of fact in game 1 (according to Han), the Rangers controlled/dump ratio was 19/42. A game the Rangers really controlled from the 10 minute mark on. In game 3 the numbers bloated to 29/42, so you tell me what the issue was?

More Hitting, Not Less Will Win Game 4

Let’s face facts, the Rangers lack the offensive talent it takes to win in the playoffs. If you think they really have a game breaker like Sidney Crosby, or even Auston Matthews you are kidding yourself.

The Rangers are a team filled with average to above average offensive players. They need to recognize that Montreal is setting a trap they aren’t good enough to beat with skill. The coaching staff needs to pound home the success of the 4th line and get the other three lines to play that way all game. You take what the defense gives you in the playoffs.

It’s time for the Rangers to put their game 1 hard hats back on and dump the puck in and lay heavy hits on the Montreal defense. It’s time for the Rangers to actually go back to playing “playoff hockey”.

Anthony Scultore has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL since 2014. His work also appears at... More about Anthony Scultore