The New York Rangers just survived a grueling six game series against the Montreal Canadiens to advance to the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals against the Ottawa Senators. Thanks mostly to the play of the once and future King Henrik Lundqvist and Montreal’s lack of any real scoring threat outside of Alexander Radulov the Rangers are now just 12 wins away from a Stanley Cup.
While many are still enjoying the fact that the Rangers advanced after a tough series, there is still a long road ahead of New York - and plenty of work left to do.
There are still some big concerns facing the Rangers as they look towards Ottawa this week. Let’s take a look at the three biggest hurdles that the Blueshirts have to overcome in order to secure their victory against the Senators.
Let’s get the most obvious concern out of the way, the Rangers defense is bad. There’s just no other way to put it, and while Dan Girardi had faint moments of competency the legendary Marc Staal and Nick Holden pairing is working it’s way up the rankings of the greatest natural disasters to ever hit New York City.
Ryan McDonagh will need to continue to play essentially two defense positions. In all likelihood the pairing of Brady Skjei and Brendan Smith will continue to be underutilized even though they were great in the first round. Adam Clendening was last seen on the side of a milk carton.
Unlike Montreal, who helped the Rangers out immensely by playing the likes of Steve Ott, Dwight King, and Michael McCarron, Ottawa dresses a more well rounded forward corps including top flight young goal scorers like Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman, and Kyle Turris. Not to mention old friend and noted playoff performer Derick Brassard.
All of that is backed up by the best defenseman in hockey: Erik Karlsson. Needless to say, the Rangers defense will have it’s work cut out for it against the Senators attack. It’s a good thing they have the greatest goaltender in franchise history playing up to his reputation.
Karlsson will be on the ice every other minute. Sloppy changes, stupid penalties and other mistakes will result in scoring chances and goals for Ottawa. It’s time to tighten things up.
Who are the New York Rangers?
Are they the team that got handily outplayed during Games 1-3, parts of Games 4 and 5, and for the opening twenty minutes of Game 6? Or are they the team that out-skated and out-worked Montreal for the second halves of Games 5 and 6 and nearly all of Game 4?
The first round series against the Canadiens was a tale of two series for the Rangers. The problem is it was more The Curious Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde and less War and Peace.
The Senators defense corps leaves a lot to be desired after Karlsson.
Dion Phaneuf, Cody Ceci, Mark Borowiecki, and company shouldn’t put fear into the Rangers forwards and setting the tone with a consistent and speedy attack will go a long way in helping the Rangers advance past Ottawa, especially since goalie Craig Anderson is no Carey Price.
The two previous hurdles all fall on the shoulders of one man: head coach Alain Vigneault.
If you ask a lot of Rangers fans, they’ll tell you that AV has burned through a lot of the trust that the 2014 Stanley Cup run earned him and they wouldn’t be wrong to feel that way.
The overreliance on veterans that are clearly inferior to younger counterparts had a clear impact on the previous series. The Rangers looked markedly better with old, bad Tanner Glass in the press box and young, good Pavel Buchnevich getting top line minutes with Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad.
It’s not just a question of who Vigneault dresses, it’s also a question of how he continues to deploy the players he puts into his lineup. How many times in the previous series did Alain Vigneault lean on Holden and Staal to try and preserve a lead late in the game while Skjei and Smith sat on the bench?
Too many times.
Senators coach Guy Boucher is considered a tactician. He will look to pounce on any opportunities that the Rangers give him both on and off the ice. Vigneault has to realize not only why the Rangers beat Montreal, but how and why it was a struggle at times. Hopefully victory over Claude Julien and the Habs hasn’t reassured the Rangers coach that all of his ideas are working.