I’m going to tell you right now at the top: if you’re looking for some scorch the earth hellfire article, you’re not going to find it here. The Rangers are playing with — and losing — house money. If they manage to overturn a 2-0 deficit and win the series (remember, it’s best of five) great! If they don’t, they get a 12.5 percent shot at the top pick this year. There are worse consolation prizes.
Anyway, on to my thoughts.
- This feels like the olden days of me wasting precious digital ink defending Henrik Lundqvist from the crabs. Honestly, it’s exhausting. He should have stopped the first goal but if you’re going to look at this
Imagine looking at this and thinking “ah I gotta blame Hank” https://t.co/77KQJq2nuu— Joe Fortunato (@JoeFortunatoBSB) August 3, 2020
and lay the blame at his skates, go for it. Goaltending isn’t the reason the Rangers are down 2-0 in this series, I hate to tell you. The Rangers scored three goals in two games. It really stops and ends there.
- Carolina pretty much overwhelmed the Rangers with depth through the first two games. Typically the Rangers have been able to absorb the stretches of being dominated in possession by opposing teams because their own top guns were able to give it back in turn — or at the very least create quick rush offense. Through two games Pavel Buchnevich, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Tony DeAngelo, Ryan Strome and Artemi Panarin have generated seven points combined through two games. With how thin the Rangers’ depth is — especially without Jesper Fast — that’s not going to cut it. It makes matters worse when the power play only goes 1-for-11.
- The power play itself is an unmitigated disaster. The Rangers dumped-and-chased their way to an 0-for-7 stat in the first game, and adjusted their strategy to longish stretch passes that Carolina easily gobbled up in Game 2. If not for the 5-on-3, the Rangers would have hung another fat zero on the man advantage. Of all the things I thought would bleed the Rangers to death in this series, the power play was not one of them. Props for them keeping us on our toes.
- Part of the issue here is the success the Rangers have found with the man advantage has come through, well, puck possession. Panarin, DeAngelo, Buchnevich, Zibanejad, and Kreider can overwhelm almost any defense, and create the space needed for someone to get off a shot. The Rangers can’t even get into the zone in this series, and Carolina’s aggressiveness on the penalty kill doesn’t help when guys can’t corral the puck. It’s mental at this point, but the Rangers have little time to fix it.
- As much as I love him, Kreider’s absence through these past two games has been the most noticeable. He had an assist on the 5-on-3 goal in Game 2, but aside from that he’s generated next to no offense and hasn’t even been an impact player in terms of possession or driving play. Kreider, even when held scoreless, is generally good for the speeding rushes down the wing that spread defenses, or a net-front presence that helps create rebounds/screens. There’s been little to none of that from him.
- To be fair, there’s been little to none of that from almost all of the top guns. Panarin and Zibanejad have had moments of light, but both have been rendered almost ineffective. Buchnevich had a fine first game, but I think I noticed him three times in Game 2 (and one of those times was the penalty he took). All the trigger-happy offense Strome had provided over the year is gone — he’s taken three (3) shots through two games. It would have been hard enough to overcome Carolina’s speed and tenacity even with the top guns going. To have their well be dry as a bone just quickened the process.
- I’ve never loved Jesper Fast in the top six, but my word do the Rangers miss him in the bottom six. Brady Skjei hurting him on the first play of his playoffs was some contribution to Carolina, let me tell you.
- David Quinn running his third-line right after giving up the go-ahead goal — after that line had been crushed in the first period — was some galaxy brain thinking. Quinn rolling four lines down two with under 10 minutes left was another head scratcher. So what if you run your top guys into the ground? There’s no tomorrow (most likely) if you go down 2-0. Playing Brett Howden as much — and in the moments he has — doesn’t work, either.
- Anthony DeAngelo’s defense issues were largely forgiven this year because of the wonderful work he did with the puck on offense. When he makes gaffs like he did in Game 2, without the offense that comes with it, it’s much more noticeable for all the wrong reasons.
- In terms of true positives, Kaapo Kakko looks like a completely different player who is confident, decisive with the puck, and able to use his frame to make things happen. Ryan Lindgren has been a pleasant surprise. Julien Gauthier has been the Kreider-lite the Rangers need through the neutral zone and the front of the net.
- If you’re the Rangers, you have to be somewhat pleased with the amount of experience you’re getting for some kids who have never been in a situation like this before. But that being said, the veterans on this team who are also struggling despite having this experience under their belt should be concerning. Carolina very simply looks ready to play, and they are dealing with the same quick-start to the playoffs the Rangers are. The Rangers have looked lost and confused from pretty much start to finish, with small flashes of competent hockey. That’s just not good enough.
- And to an extent that’s OK. The chirps came out on Twitter for this thought, but it’s fine if the Rangers lose this series. Again, give me my 12.5% at the top pick and let me enjoy my day. The problems that need to be fixed need to be fixed this summer, and they won’t be easy decisions. The good news is they can be fixed. And I trust John Davidson far more than Glen Sather in that regard. The Rangers have no more “freebies” after this series, and Quinn needs to start making longer-term adjustments and cutting bait from the things that aren’t working — even if they’re kids. That’s the hard part. But you have 60 minutes of hockey at least before you need to start thinking about it.