Rangers road to mediocrity this season and the key to turning it around this post seasonThe Rangers enter the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs on a happy note. They got a nice win to close out the season at home against the Penguins, but with the lineups both teams put out, it looked like an exhibition game in September.
However, before they beat Pittsburgh the Rangers played some of the most mediocre hockey I’ve seen in years. Matter of fact, since an early February 6 game winning streak the Blueshirts closed out the season with an 11-10-5 record. Not exactly a confidence building run heading into the playoffs.
The Rangers were propelled into this postseason with a 37-18-1 record prior to their insipid run. New York was literally scoring at will up until February 13th and then fell off the face of the Earth. To make matters worse, their goals against average went in the wrong direction as well, with a steady climb after Valentine’s Day.
So What Happened to the Offense?
A number of things impacted the Rangers inability to score goals. First and foremost….Michael Grabner!
Either Grabner’s luck ran out big time or he never recovered from the practice check by Adam Clendening that injured him. Grabner scored 26 goals by February 9th and would only score once more the rest of the season.
Grabner’s issues would drastically impact his two main linemates. JT Miller had amassed 36 points prior to February 16th and only mustered 12 after. Even worse, Kevin Hayes who was really rolling with 42 points only had 8 in the 26 games from that date.
The weight of Derek Stepan‘s 23 game goal drought also started to have a major impact. By the time February 16th rolled around he was only 11 games into it. You add that to Grabner losing his scoring touch and you can see the reason for such mediocrity the rest of the way.
Issues with the PK and in Goal Showed Themselves Early
In January the Rangers had a brutal stretch giving up goals. In 11 games they coughed up 38 goals against. Henrik Lundqvist‘s struggles were on full display as he allowed 35 of those goals. Raanta started only once and allowed 3 goals in an loss to Columbus in which he was pulled.
However, one real issue which has become a major concern heading into the playoff is the penalty kill. Prior to January, the Rangers had allowed 17 power play goals in 39 games. In January they gave up 7 in those 11 contests. Their down low coverage and inability to clear the crease was becoming an issue and continued for the remainder of the season, with no hope of improvement.
Yes, it is true that Lundqvist had one of the worst seasons of his career, but the PK and lapses in defensive coverage surely haven’t helped. A real commitment to detail will be needed if the Rangers have any hopes this post season.
Adjustments Will Be The Key to Success This Post Season
Let’s get the Captain Obvious stuff out of the way…
- Lundqvist must be Lundqvist from the last 5 seasons
- Rick Nash can’t go AWOL again in the playoffs
- Rangers PK must be 100x better or we’re done
The Rangers real key to success this post season will be making adjustments. That doesn’t mean just the lineup choices Alain Vigneault will need to make, but also in game adjustments to what the opposition is doing.
That doesn’t just go for the coaching staff, that onus actually goes on each and every player. AV is a stubborn as any coach comes, but so are some of his players. If the Montreal Canadiens opt to dress Dwight King, Steve Ott, and Andreas Martinsen for Game 1, then it behooves AV to dress Tanner Glass as well. Same as if Montreal is standing the Rangers up at the line, they need to be willing to dump and chase to gain the zone.
Now, if Montreal feels a more skilled lineup is called for and were to scratch some of those players, then AV should do the same. Which means that Pavel Buchnevich would certainly get the call. Either way, AV actually has a deep and diverse lineup to play with this post season, and he needs to use it effectively. How he handles his bottom 3 forwards will go a long way to improving the Rangers chances.
Lastly, and this is a tough one. If Henrik struggles early, AV must be willing to give him the hook. Antti Raanta had the better season by far, and we know he can play for this team. The coach is going to need to have the stones to yank Hank at the earliest signs of trouble this post season. If he opts to let Lundqvist try and work it out, the Rangers could be headed for another first round exit.