It’s not now or never for the Rangers — just now!
As they prepare for Game 3 of the opening round against the Penguins, the Rangers have to do some heavy thinking prior to Monday’s match-up at Consol Energy Center.
Between now and the opening face-off, coach Alain Vigneault must find the answer to the following questions:
- WORK ETHIC: Despite extraordinary vocal support from The Garden crowd, the Blueshirts were out-hustled and never before was it more evident in their near-powerless power play. When Pittsburgh takes seven penalties to the Rangers one and the Blueshirts only score a single goal, that alone was enough to lose the game. Why did this happen?
- GOALTENDING: It’s been evident all season that Marc-Andre Fleury has re-discovered his 2009 Stanley Cup winning form. Fleury is super agile, focused and highly-motivated. While Henrik Lundqvist was under-attacked in Game 1, he saw more rubber in Saturday night’s tilt. Still, he failed to deliver despite facing less threatening drives than Fleury. When will The King reverse this trend?
- EXPLOITING INEXPERIENCE: The Penguins are minus Kris LeTang, Pascal Dupuis, Derrick Pouliot, and Olli Maatta. Consequently they’re employing green skaters such as Taylor Chorney, Brian Dumoulin, and Scott Harrington, who are prone to errors if correctly harassed. Why haven’t the Rangers succeeded in getting more out of this Pittsburgh weakness?
- OVERCONFIDENCE: Although the Rangers have expressed public respect for the Penguins, the unanimous opinion is that they should dominate the Pens and this may have seeped into their psyche. How do they get this potential overconfidence out of their system?
For starters, the individual Blueshirts believe that they have the answers.
“We have a group of guys who have frustrated themselves and just have to go out and get some good mo-jo going and find a way to pop a couple in and relax a little bit on it,” said Derek Stepan, who scored the Rangers first goal on Saturday. “We’ve got a lot of guys who are gripping the stick and there’s no need for that, especially now. We need to get some positive energy on it, zip it around, and make some plays.”
In terms of work ethic, a change in strategy might work hand in glove with hustle.
“We didn’t spend enough time in their zone, like we did in the first game. We weren’t as sharp with the puck coming out of our zone,” explained Captain Ryan McDonagh. “They were a lot more aggressive and it took us a while to find our strength of using our legs. We didn’t quite get our fore checking and offensive zone play nearly as much as we’d like. So the rink was kind of cut in half a little bit for them at times.”
Here are the answers to the questions above:
- WORK ETHIC: The Penguins can’t handle the Rangers speed. Harder fore checks will be too strong for the Pittsburgh defense.
- GOALTENDING: Lundqvist rebounds well from defeats. He should be at the top of his game for the third encounter.
- EXPLOITING INEXPERIENCE: On Saturday night, the New Yorkers were guilty of too much passing, and were too fancy on the power play. They need more shots fired on net.
- OVERCONFIDENCE: That element should be easily solved by just remembering what happened in Game 2.
Based on talent alone, and their excellent road record, the Rangers should win the next three games. I picked them to win this series in five, so that takes care of Pittsburgh’s victory.
We’ll soon see whether Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Monsieur Fleury have any objections!