The Rangers came out of the gate playing fast and hard. The first period in game 1 of the 2022 postseason was a successful one. They outhit, outplayed, and effectively outskated the Pittsburgh Penguins for the majority of the period. This can be contributed to the level of tenacity and physicality the team brought during the first twenty minutes of the game. The Rangers were led in hits by the typical player you’d expect in Ryan Reaves but perhaps a bit surprisingly, Alexis Lafrenière was right there with him.
#NYR credited with 19 hits in the first. Ryan Reaves and Alexis Lafrenière lead the team with four each.— Mollie Walker (@MollieeWalkerr) May 3, 2022
I wanted to dive in a bit deeper into how physical of a period this truly was for the Rangers, but after the triple OT heartbreak, it’s both rather late and painful to analyze this game. So with that being said, as far as I can tell the New York Rangers record for most hits in a playoff game in recent history is held by Ryan McDonagh. He had 11 hits in 34:23 of ice time when the Rangers lost to the Ottawa Senators in double OT on April 29th, 2017. Tonight, Ryan Reaves had 8 hits in just about 16 minutes of ice time with the majority of them occurring in the first period.
At the beginning of the game, Reaves’ play was very noticeable. He came out hard against the Penguins and helped set the tone. While out there, he was all over the ice finishing checks and causing turnovers making the Penguins’ defenders play more cautiously.
It will forever be argued what type of impact a player like Reaves can have. A lot of pundits would point to his possession statistics in deciding whether he is an effective or ineffective player. But it remains to be true his physical style of play can and does inject some vitality into the Blueshirts and has also rubbed off on some of the other players.
One of the other players that has embraced playing with a physical edge is Alexis Lafrenière. While it’s difficult to track down QMJHL statistics regarding the amount of hits players have in their career, we can look at his penalty minutes while with the Rimouski Oceanic to see Lafrenière has always been a chippy player not afraid to get involved. In his last two seasons with the Oceanic, he had 50 PIM in 52 games and 72 PIM in 61 games. In his rookie season in the NHL, Lafrenière took a bit of time to adjust to the style of play but in his sophomore season we’ve seen him bring consistent physicality, and that style of play will be much needed if the Rangers are to succeed in the playoffs.
The game was seemingly well within the Rangers’ hands as the clock ticked by in the first. Near the end of the period, Rickard Rakell was carrying the puck into the offensive zone being chased by Panarin. Ryan Lindgren stepped up and knocked Rakell down to the ice in what some may consider a questionable hit. Rakell was helped off and did not return to the game and Lindgren ended up with a two-minute minor for roughing. It was around this moment the team’s physical edge began to taper off. It was especially noticeable in the second period when the Penguins came out ready to play rough.
Whether done wrong by the officiating or not the Rangers lost this game. They may have outplayed the Penguins in the first, but this match was almost six periods long, and aside from the first I’m not confident in stating the Rangers outplayed the Penguins in any of the other periods. They were heavily outshot, had close to twice as many giveaways as the Penguins, and even with their physically dominant first period, barely outhit Pittsburgh at the end of the game.
Reaves while an effective player for the team at times should be used less by Gallant. He and the fourth line were being deployed in critical situations and getting consistent shifts in overtime. Reaves may have helped the team in the opening period but throughout the game often found himself being matched up against the Crosby line and thoroughly outplayed. With home-ice advantage, this matchup happening consistently is borderline unacceptable. With game 2 this Thursday the Rangers need to find their balance of physicality and puck possession. Will the team ice the same line-up? It remains to be seen if Gallant was pleased with the play of his fourth line, it’s possible we could see Reaves scratched with Dryden Hunt getting a chance to play.