The Rangers Special Teams Needs To Wake Up

In unsurprising news, the New York Rangers are the only team in the playoffs to not score a power play goal yet. (Ironically the now swept Calgary Flames lead the league with a PP conversion percentage of 37.5%.)

On the podcast last night I talked about how the Rangers getting this far along without some of their top players producing was a reason to be positive. We also talked extensively on the podcast about how it’s even more impressive when you realize the Rangers don’t have a power play goal yet. This, from my story yesterday:

Reasons to be positive: The Rangers are tied 2-2 in a series where Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, Mika Zibanejad, Derek Stepan, Kevin Hayes and Jimmy Vesey all have not scored a goal. Outside of Michael Grabner, Jesper Fast and Rick Nash who all have two points, no other player has more than a single point and Kreider, Miller and Hayes don’t have any points at all. Brady Skjei and Brendan Smith continue to be fantastic, and Henrik Lundqvist has been in God mode. To be this far along in a series with the offense not clicking and those top players not putting up points isn’t ideal, but it also shows you what this team is capable of. Game 4 should be terrifying for Montreal. The Rangers finally took it to them. If those guys start clicking it’s going to be serious problems for the Habs.

During the preseason the Rangers had a seemingly lethal power play. Some of that can be attributed to Brandon Pirri’s explosive start (and, of course, Adam Clendening, but I digress) but most of it had to do with their puck movement.

Zibanejad looked like he was ready to make a living from the Alexander Ovechkin faceoff circle office, and the Rangers crashed the net with reckless abandon. They screened goalies. They moved the puck from side to side getting better looks. Shots from the point were either tipped or someone (usually Rick Nash or Chris Kreider) were taking away the goalie’s eyes.

When the Rangers power play worked this year, they were doing some version of that. They have the distributors to keep the puck moving (Mats Zuccarello, Pavel Buchnevich and Derek Stepan get big nods here), and the big bodies should be able to sit in the high or low slot to cause chaos.

They’ve gotten away from that a bit in the playoffs. The Rangers are playing a lot of their man advantage along the boards, trying to cycle up to the point for weak, seen-all-the-way slap shots. That, or there’s so much puck movement that the Rangers pass up great shots for an attempt at a perfect pass and end up losing the puck. Being too fancy is a fine way to describe it.

Sometimes when things aren’t going well you have to get back to the basics. Kevin Hayes’ disallowed power play goal in Game 4 came from Nash crashing the net and him being there for the rebound. If it would have counted it would have been called a garbage goal. Sometimes that’s exactly what the doctor ordered.

Simplify things. Throw anything and everything at the net. Park Kreider, Nash and Hayes right in front of Carey Price and when Shea Weber tries to move them out shoot into the chaos. Fight for those rebounds and forget the cross-ice, trying to make the perfect play passes. Stay away from the back of the net and get shots through traffic. Hockey 101.

From my seats it looked like the Rangers were trying to set up Zibanejad (or whoever was on the other size) for that Ovechkin shot, but weren’t getting good enough passes to allow the one-timer. Or when they even got through they couldn’t hit the net.

Montreal’s power play hasn’t been spectacular (just 15%) but it’s been enough to be the edge in one of the wins. You win and lose games on a razor’s edge, and having a power play literally go scoreless is not a good gamble to keep taking. The Rangers need to get back to the basics and just try to do the little things right.

Price doesn’t help here, either. But the work he’s had to do hasn’t come on the man advantage. That’s a problem that will kill the Rangers eventually, even if it’s not in this series.

Better to fix it sooner rather than later.