You guys seem to enjoy hearing the different perspectives that Behind Enemy Lines can provide, so I thought I'd go bother my friend John Fontana over at Raw Charge with five more questions about the Eastern Conference Finals. John, who has clearly wised up since the last time we spoke, had two of his junior staff writers field the questions this time around.
GeoFitz4 and Brett Frieman were kind enough to offer their insight, analysis, and opinions on five questions that I cooked up yesterday. I was particularly interested in what they thought of Tampa's offensive outbursts in Games 2 and 3, which Rangers they thought were giving the Tampa Bay Lightning the biggest headaches, and what their opinion of Martin St. Louis' poor production and play was. Without further delay, let's get right into 5 More Questions with Raw Charge.
1. Although the Lightning are up 2-1 heading into Game 4, are there things you've seen about their play that troubles you (i.e. Ben Bishop's goaltending)?
GeoFitz4: The biggest thing that stands out is the turnovers leading directly to good scoring chances for the Rangers. Overall, the team has done well in limiting the number of high danger shots, but Bishop has had to bail the skaters out more than you'd like to see. He stood on his head in games 1 and 2 to keep the Bolts in the game and ultimately win game 2, but he really struggled in game 3 while the skaters kept doing the same thing. The Ranger's speed has also exposed some weakness on the blueline and it has taken some time to adjust. Detroit was big and physical while Montreal fell somewhere in between, fast, but not fast enough to keep up with the Lightning. The Rangers though are one of the few teams in the league that match up with Tampa's speed. Garrison and Coburn are pretty good skaters for their size, but aren't as fast as Hedman or Stralman. Carle and Sustr have often been exposed through the first three games, while Nesterov has mostly seen powerplay time when he draws in though he is a good skater. If Carle is out, it will be interesting to see what Cooper does with the line up. He can continue with his 11 forward, 7 defenseman strategy for mixing up matchups and bring in Mark Barberio or Luke Witkowski as the 7th defenseman. Or he can bring Marchessault, Namestnikov, or Drouin back into the line up to go with 6 defense. With that defense line up, it does split up Hedman and Stralman on the first pair as you'll see Hedman team up with Sustr (which greatly improves Sustr on the ice) and Stralman with Nesterov.
2. Twelve goals in two games against Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers is something that doesn't happen very often, what is it about the Bolts that makes them such a dynamic offensive team?
GeoFitz4: In the Raw Charge preview for Game 3, we said that we might not score more than two or three goals against Lundqvist again this series and we were quite surprised to see it happen again to one of the best goaltenders in the world. When you go down the forwards, you'll see a ton of really good skaters. Greybeard Brendan Morrow is the only forward that would rate below average having lost a step or two from his prime. There's a lot of speed and a lot of energy in the legs of the rest of the forwards. While the Rangers have a really good group of defensemen, they have to respect the speed of the Lightning forwards so as to not get caught flatfooted. Sometimes that means they respect it a little too much. Kucherov's overtime goal in Game 3 was a prime example of that. Despite being towards the end of the shift and coming in 1-on-2, the Rangers D backed off the blue line, gave him room, and failed to challenge him. Kucherov has a quick, accurate release and we've seen him take those kind of shots all season and get them past even elite goaltenders. When you combine skill with compete level, you get forwards that are capable of scoring goals and making plays, but that also will play hard defense. Combine that with some good puck moving defensemen and you have a team that works hard to get the puck back and move it up the ice in transition back to the attack.
3. Which player on the Rangers do you think is having the best series thus far? Have any of the Rangers surprised you with their play compared to what you expected to see out of them?
Brett: Regarding this series, Derek Stepan seems to be the most recent standout and has carried his momentum from the second round against Washington. And it goes beyond the fact that he leads the Blueshirts in most points this postseason.
Stepan has consistently been able to test Ben Bishop and force offensive pressure by doing something, along with Derrick Brassard, the Lightning could take note of; shoot the puck and shoot it often. The second half of these playoffs, Stepan has found more comfort in the offensive zone, and his goal from behind the net that deflected off Braydon Coburn in Game 2 is a great example of his awareness and playmaking ability. Like many of the Lightning's goal scorers, Stepan has been cautious, but forceful with his shots by taking time to assess the situation and then fire, similar to Steven Stamkos' style of play.
While Lightning's second line are creating buzz down here in Tampa Bay, New York's second line is also generating some success of its own with Stepan being supported by Chris Kreider and Jesper Fast on the wings. Compared to the individual production from each of the trio in the regular season to this postseason, maybe it could become a permanent fixture of its own after this summer? Kreider's five points in his last five games and Fast's two goals in Game 3 are positive indicators. Although Mats Zuccarello's return could rearrange things as well. There's still also room more improvement though, as the three combined only have a plus-minus of zero, with Stepan being at minus-1.
4. Just curious, but do you know what's wrong with Martin St. Louis and/or Rick Nash?
Brett: Since last season's trade saga, there are plenty of Lightning fans that won't give Martin St. Louis the credit he deserves in any capacity. Essentially, Marty's not the same fast goal scorer the hockey world saw him grow up as in Tampa that helped the Lightning raise a Stanley Cup banner over a decade ago, but it's alarming he's yet to put the puck in the back of the net this deep into the playoffs. He may not being showing it on the ice, but Marty is a leader by example. Just as he played in Tampa, St. Louis always gives 110% on the ice and will skate his hardest up until the end of every shift from the preseason in September all the way until the end of the season.
With that said, yes, his play has lately declined and is becoming noticeably bland. Marty's weakness longterm has been turning over the puck from misjudged passes, but this series his new tactic seems to be trying to give Ben Bishop a cold from all the fans he's had by missing clean, well-executed passes in front of the net and waving his stick on shot attempts. We initially extended him in 2010 up until the end of this season, but now that'll be on you guys to determine how much longer his career will last.
With Rick Nash, this seems to be a reoccurring pattern. In simpler terms, Nash + regular season = quality goal scorer, and Nash + playoffs = phantom. I guess the good news is he's on pace to have his best playoff season to date, but that isn't saying much considering his personal record is 10 points (3 goals, 7 assists) from the 25 games he played in last year's postseason. Granted, most of his playoff experience has come from playing in New York so there isn't a large sample pool to draw from.
The chances are there for Nash. Even as recent as Game 3, there were countless scoring opportunities in which he raced down the ice with the puck, only to have the play diminish rapidly. I would compare his productivity to that of our own J.T. Brown; being in the right place at the right time to bury the puck, but still coming up short. The difference is though Brown is a young fourth-liner still establishing his career, and Rick Nash is, well, Rick Nash. If New York wants to stay alive, then they particularly need Nash to step up and be the heavy duty goal scorer that he is in the regular season. There's still time left.
5. Have any interest in taking Dan Boyle off of our hands? Please?
GeoFitz4: I have to say that Boyle was probably the steal of the free agent market... Brian Boyle that is. $6 million for three years of a big "power forward" that scored 15 goals, plays the most penalty kill time and can fill in on defense and score a goal? Sign me up! Oh, Dan Boyle. Sorry, he's past his prime and we are more than happy paying more money to Super Swede Anton Stralman. Coach Cooper has made the comment several times that Stralman may never win a Norris... but his partner probably will. He has been a possession machine. At 5 on 5 play, among Lightning defensemen he was first in TOI, 2nd in goals, 1st in assists, 1st in points, 1st in shots on goal, 1st in Corsi, 1st in RelCorsi%, and well, you get the picture. He was by far the MVP of the Bolts blueline. However, the Rangers are more than welcome to continue their collection of 2004 Stanley Cup winners.
Just what we needed, another person reminding us about how bad of an idea not re-signing Anton Stralman was. If it is any comfort to you guys at all, we don't have to live in constant terror of living dinosaur attack like Floridians do. I found some of Brett and GeoFitz4's answers to be pretty interesting, especially what was said about Martin St. Louis, Tampa's defensive woes, and how even Tampa fans can't help but notice how exceptional Jesper Fast has been this postseason.
The biggest thing that stands out is the turnovers leading directly to good scoring chances for the Rangers.
You know, it's hard enough with both teams having several guys that have played for the enemy at one point and great team speed, do these clubs really need to have some of the same major problems? Honestly, I'm surprised that Ben Bishop's shaky play wasn't talked about more but you have to agree with GeoFitz4 about Bishop needing to bail out his team a lot more than he should really need to (sound familiar, anyone?). Bishop was outstanding in Game 1 but I thought he had an even rougher game than Hank did in Game 3, he seems to be leaving some juicy rebounds in dangerous scoring areas.
Hopefully the Rangers, particularly their two highest cap hit forwards, can turn things around tonight in Game 4 and find a way to head into Game 5 with the series tied at 2-2. Tonight isn't truly a must win game for the Blueshirts, but if they can't find a way to win tonight and even up the series they will be putting their backs right up against the wall for the second straight series and will need to find a way to come back from a 3-1 deficit again. As exciting as that might be, I'd much prefer they just take Game 4 tonight and get back to the Garden feeling good about their game and their chances to beat the Lightning in 6 or 7 games. Y'know, if the Blueshirts play 60 minutes of solid Rangers hockey without beating themselves (penalties, turnovers, and repeatedly tripping for no apparent reason) and making Tampa have to beat them, I wouldn't be all that terrified of being down 3-1 for the second series in a row. Did I actually just write that? Yes, yes I did.
It's easy to be pessimistic, angry, dejected, and fed-up with how the Rangers have played as of late, but this series isn't over. If the Rangers lose tonight, it still won't be over. As Joe wrote this morning, the Rangers have a penchant for playing their best hockey when things look the most grim. I suppose that's a good thing, because things look pretty grim right now... but I still believe. Do you?
Let's go Rangers. Get it done, boys.