A lot of the talk around the blog lately has been about how this team is full of 2nd and 3rd line players, and that this a problem for a team that wants to contend for the Stanley Cup. With the Rangers being eliminated in the first round I, like most of you, have turned to all the other series' in the playoffs to fulfill my hockey needs. One of the teams that I've really enjoyed watching, and even begun to root for, is the Nashville Predators. Upon watching the past 5 or 6 games the Predators played, it has become clear to me why I've liked them so much. Their team is build very similarly to our beloved New York Rangers.
First off, the goalies. Pekka Rinne had an absolutely incredible season this year, and if it weren't for Tim Thomas showing Dominik Hasek like moves and putting up ungodly numbers, Rinne would be a lock for the Vezina. Rinne entirely carried this team this year, much like Lundqvist has done for us ever since the lockout, and it would be probably pretty safe to say that if not for the goalies on both these teams, the Rangers, the Predators and the Oilers would be in a battle for the first overall pick in next years draft.
On defense both teams have an incredible top pair with a fairly solid, unnamed supporting cast to back them up. Clearly Weber and Suter are much better than Staal and Girardi offensively (especially on the power play), however Staal and Girardi definitely are the better defensive pair, as they probably could be called the best shutdown pair in the league. Franson and Klein had very solid seasons, and once again while being better than Sauer and McDonagh offensive, the Rangers second pair was definitely a better defensive tandem. Both teams pride themselves on being sound defensively, and it definitely showed as both teams were in the top five in goals against in the regular season.
Offensively, players like Martin Erat, David Legwand, Sergei Kostitsyn and Patric Hornqvist were the main scorers for Nashville, while the Rangers had players like Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Brian Boyle and Derek Stepan as their top scorers. All of these players, numbers wise at least, would be considered second or third line players as not one of them scored more than 54 points this season. While the top Nashville players are more skilled as opposed to the top Rangers players being of the more hard working variety, all of these players played the same general role on their respective teams.
From a coaching standpoint, both teams have very in your face, eccentric coach who is not afraid to speak his mind, even if it is crazy and over the top. John Tortorella is the only one of the two to win the Jack Adams trophy for best coach, however, Barry Trotz was nominated this season for his second career nomination. We all know about how blunt Tortorella can be with the media, but after game one against the Canucks, Trotz really called out all of his forwards to the media, and essentially said that his team needed to start playing like they wanted to win a game, giving them the spark plug to pull out a victory in Vancouver in game 2.
The X-Factor? Marian Gaborik. If Gaborik put up a consistent point per game pace like he did in first year with the Rangers, this team could of had a very different look headed into the playoffs, and a lot more confidence knowing they had a go to guy. It clearly didn't work out that way so the Rangers were ousted in the first round to a much more talented Washington Capitals team. However, the blame cannot be put on Gaborik, because as we can see the Nashville Predators faced a similar type team in the Anaheim Ducks and managed to knock them out before facing the President Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks, and if not for some very, very poor officiating (entirely my opinion of course) could in fact be ahead in the series.
While the Rangers and the Predators are not the exact same team, I firmly believe that they are built in a very similar way. Both teams focus on role players, strong defense and exceptional goaltending to help them succeed. The Predators have been a more successful team with this method in the playoffs this year, but that really could be a fluke, because if not for an extremely unlucky bounce and some refs who forgot where they put their whistle until the puck was in the net (I know, I'm still very bitter about it), the Rangers could possibly be in the second round as well. But what does this mean for our beloved New York Rangers you ask? It means we should stay the course. Sure, a player like Brad Richards would be a wonderful addition to any team in the NHL, but if it costs us any of our key players due to cap issues, then I say no thank you. The only real advantage that the Nashville Predators have over the Rangers is production from their defense, but with Staal and Girardi improving in that category every year, and the hopeful reemergence of Michael Del Zotto, that advantage could be gone very shortly. Please let me know if I'm just talking out of my rear and spewing garbage, but I firmly believe that this team is bound for greatness in the next few years. Nashville has shown this year that you don't need a plethora of 7 million dollar players to do well in the playoffs, and I think this Rangers organization, without any outside help, could be one of the more feared teams in the NHL in a few years time. It's a good time to be Rangers fan my friends, a very good time.