Special teams were expected to play a huge role in the current playoff series between the New York Rangers and the Washington Capitals. That assumption has been spot on the first two games. And unfortunately for the Rangers, they've been the team who has failed to get the job done.
In both Game 1 and Game 2 the Rangers power play has had a chance to either win the game or give the Rangers a critical lead. To this point in the series the Rangers have not scored on a single power play, and they've actually only scored one goal in the two losses.
You don't need me to tell you how important the power play is going to be if the Rangers want to get back into this series. John Tortorella admitted that the power play has been "stagnant" and "almost paralyzed." Well, there are some ways to fix that, and the easiest way is for Tortorella to play to his strengths.
Down Low: The first thing Tortorella has to do is put Rick Nash in front of the net. To this point, Nash has been floating either along the half-boards or up above the circles. Neither of those strategies are working. Nash has ridiculously good hands in close. He does not snipe from the top of the circles or the point. He scores his goals around the crease, in the slot or from the two circles. Having Nash outside those three zones doesn't make any sense. He's a big body, he can screen the goalie, he's overqualified to clean up the garbage around the net and he's capable of being a playmaker down there, too. Use him there, it's where he belongs.
Cycle Ryan Callahan and Ryane Clowe here, too. You can run with Nash, Clowe or Callahan in front of the net and have the other two in the slot or in the circles (you also don't have to have all three of them on the ice at once). Clowe is really, really good at crashing the net as it is, but the Rangers need bodies there. Right now they're running with three players above the circles. That's obviously not working (and hasn't been all year).
The Slot: This is the one part of the power play that I'm OK with. Tortorella uses Derek Stepan as the "pivot" in the high slot/slot. Stepan generally takes passes from the point and can then quickly dish to the half-boards, back to the passer or to the other point. He can also twist and shoot or try and shuffle the puck down low. This works if the two defenseman on the point are actually, you know, separated (more on this next). But right now I'm fine with Stepan where he is.
The Half-boards I like Derick Brassard here, a lot. If the Rangers have someone in front of the net, Stepan as the pivot and two point men, Brassard (or Brad Richards) can run some offense through the faceoff circles and the half-boards. Brassard and Richards make sense because of their vision and ability to get the puck to where it has to go. The two can actually shoot from there, too, if given the opportunity.
The Point: The Rangers play with the puck at the point on power plays constantly. And since there aren't many bodies down low when opposing teams pressure the point the Rangers defenseman generally don't have anywhere to go. So the puck is generally thrown down low in a panic, where a Ranger will fight for it in the corner and the puck is cleared without issue.
Running three men down low will allow the Rangers point to have more room to work with. The defenseman will have to cheat down low to cover the bodies there, and the Rangers can actually start generating shots (and offense) from the point. Right now the Rangers panic when pressure comes from up top, because there's so little support down low.
Obviously you can swap personnel to whatever you think is better. Something has to give, though. Things obviously aren't working.