Rangers and Senators – Round Two Preview

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With the Rangers and Senators both winning their first round matchups, the two teams will do battle in round two of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Here is my preview of all the coming action, and five key factors that will play to who moves on to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Forward Depth
As has been mentioned numerous times this year, the Rangers possess one of the deepest forward groups in the NHL. With the ability to roll all four lines, and have all four be able to contribute offensively, Alain Vigneault is able to have full confidence in whoever is on the ice. And while the Senators don’t have the firepower up and down their forward group that the Blueshirts do, they have a lot of guys who can put up points. Aside from the obvious of Bobby Ryan, Kyle Turris, Mike Hoffman and ex-Ranger Derick Brassard, guys like Alex Burrows, Clarke MacArthur, and Mark Stone are consistent point producers for Guy Boucher’s club. If the Rangers can limit the top guys, much like they did Max Pacioretty of the Canadiens, they will put themselves in a very good position.

Defensive Contributions
Since day one of training camp, the Rangers most noticeable flaw was their defensive group. Coming into the year, aside from Ryan McDonagh, there were some serious points of concern. Would Dan Girardi and Marc Staal bounce back from a very bad 2015-2016 campaign? Would Kevin Klein be able to continue his steady play on the blue line? How would Brady Skjei develop in his first full NHL season? How would offseason acquisition Nick Holden fare on Broadway? And at this point in the year, all of those questions have their answers. Girardi and Staal got back some of their previous forms. Klein did a complete 180 from 2015-16, for whatever reason, and found himself in street clothes a lot this year. Holden started well but lost his way a bit toward the end of the regular season. And then there is Brady Skjei, who has been one of the best rookie defensemen the Rangers have seen in a long time. Skjei is responsible in his own zone, always making the smart defensive play, and has the offensive ability to be a serious contributor. And with Jeff Gorton’s addition of Brendan Smith at the trade deadline, the Rangers now have a guy who is willing to drop the gloves when called upon, as we saw against the Canadiens.

The Senators defense has similar, but slightly different concerns. Erik Karlsson, Cody Ceci, and Marc Methot have all been consistent players on both ends of the ice. But with a very young and inexperienced third pairing of Ben Harpur and Fredrik Claesson and an aging Dion Phaneuf, the Sens will have a tough time keeping up with the speed of Alain Vigneault’s squad. But bottom line, both teams have positives and negatives when it comes to their defensemen. There isn’t any clear advantage either way.

Something that was very apparent when these two teams faced off in the regular season was how structured the Senators were in the neutral zone. This made it hard for the Rangers to use their speed and generate a forecheck. AV will have to adjust to this, by having his players play a dump and chase game, or some other way.

Special Teams
Coming into game six against the Canadiens, the Rangers PP was an abysmal 0/14. While they were able to capitalize on their only chance in the series clincher, they will need to step it up as the playoffs continue. And with the Senators PK going 11/16 in their first round matchup against the Bruins, there is room for the Rangers to score with the man advantage.
As for the Rangers PK, the unit went 17/20 against the Habs and had a shorthanded goal in game five. The Senators PP was just 5/23 against the B’s and gave up a shorty themselves. If the Blueshirts can step up their play on special teams, they’ll make it very difficult for the Senators to get any real traction in this series.

With all of this being said though, the play of both netminders will be crucial in this series.
Henrik Lundqvist is coming off of a dominant series, in which he backstopped the Blueshirts with a 947 SV% and 1.70 GAA. He has looked nothing like the man we saw in February and early March when the King looked like a shell of his normal self. He is confident, making big stop after big stop, and making sure his team has a very good chance every night.

As for the Senators and Craig Anderson, it has been an emotional season, to say the least. Anderson had to take multiple leaves of absence from the team, as his wife is dealing with cancer. But that is not to say he is not a good goaltender. Anderson had a respectable .921 SV% in round one, as well as a 1.94 GAA. He is more than capable of stealing a game for his team, as the Rangers found out in the 2012 playoffs, with the Blueshirts being the number one seed and the series going the distance.

The Rangers are stronger and deeper all up and down their lineup. They have the ability to play a speed game, as they did for most of the season, and they can play the grinding in the corners game, as we saw in their first round defeat of Montreal. I don’t forsee a sweep, but I can see Craig Anderson stealing one or two games. I do think the Rangers will come out of this series on top, once again in six games.

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