Nobody – no team – is perfect.
Having won the Stanley Cup last June, the Los Angeles Kings could be forgiven for believing that they had come close to perfection. But we now know how wrong they were.
By contrast, the Rangers are moving up the championship ladder as they prepare for the Washington Capitals in Round Two. The trick for Alain Vigneault’s merry minstrels is to avoid slipping off the next rung; just two from the top.
And since each step is different from the previous one, the smart coach executes strategic changes. Here’s a check list of moves that must be made:
If nothing else, the Blueshirts five-game ousting of Pittsburgh proved that the Rangers could win an ugly series. That meant outworking and out-positioning the Penguins below the goal line. Now the Seventh Avenue Skaters face a Caps’ team that plays more physical than Sidney Crosby’s outplayed outfit. Therefore, stick and body positioning will be decisive.
AV’s trump card: Speed, and more speed, will be essential to make it advantage-Rangers.
In a playoff where, across the board, teams have wondered about officiating consistency, it behooves the more talented Rangers to play to their strengths and avoid unnecessary penalties. That means avoiding needless scrums and turning the other cheek when agitators get away with stick-massaging. Against Pitt’s trouble-makers – Chris Kunitz, Max Lapierre, Steve Downey, Patric Hornqvist – the New Yorkers played it smart.
AV’s trump card: Discipline and speed.
ONUS ON THE FAVORITES
Unquestionably, the team that went to the Stanley Cup Final last Spring and won the Presidents’ Trophy earlier this month, is favored to beat Ovechkin & Co. And why not? Neither talent nor motivation is an issue. What may be a factor is the avalanche of “How Can The Rangers Ever Lose This One” stories that inevitably will put more pressure on the favorites.
AV’s trump card: Himself. The coach is cucumber-calm and his persona erases all pressure points.
THE NOT-ENOUGH SCORING ISSUE
In the four victories against the Penguins, the Rangers eked out every contest by a mere goal. What’s more – or worse, as the case may be – is that they averaged only two goals a game. While that may be a positive in playoff hockey, it raises questions about New York’s scoring machine.
Or, to put it bluntly, is there sufficient armament over the secondary and tertiary forward units? My offensive expert, Joe Kelleher, does not hesitate to name names.
“While Rick Nash and Derick Brassard command attention,” Kelleher explained, “The ‘All-American’ line of Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan and J.T. Miller have a fine blend of skill and physicality. Kreider and Miller both play with an edge, driving to the net, where Stepan can feed them the puck. It’s also worth remembering that Kreider is one of the fastest players in the NHL; few opponents can keep pace with him on a breakaway.
“Just below them, Kevin Hayes and Carl Hagelin have stepped up at big times in these playoffs, which could give their line a big boost of confidence going forward. Whether the third line mate is Martin St. Louis or James Sheppard, the young Americans are capable of kick-starting the Rangers offense.”
Ready for Round Two?
In my next blog, my topics also will include second round matchups; plus whether the Rangers can continue to play shutdown defense, among other decisive departments.