From Series to Serious

 

One loss at home is not that serious.

Two straight losses at The Garden? That moves this second-round series into the realm of serious for the Rangers.

Facing the rugged Capitals Saturday at home, the Blueshirts not only encounter a character test, but a challenge to their strategy involving their roster moves, toughness and resiliency.

Few losses ever could be more devastating than the 2-1 crusher in Game 1.

There remain other issues that could be troublesome for Alain Vigneault‘s general staff.

One is the fact that Washington’s skaters betrayed no fatigue on Thursday night despite their punishing seven-game set with the Islanders.

Plus, Caps coach Barry Trotz conceded postgame that he didn’t think his confounding skaters – they blend exquisite skill with brute force – brought its A-Game to MSG, despite winning with 1.3 seconds remaining in the game.

Regarding Saturday’s match, Trotz couldn’t have been more succinct.

“We’ve got another level to our game,” he promised.

And the Rangers? Before I get to specific issues, here’s the good news:

A. New York lost by a mere goal.

B. The Rangers outplayed and outshot Washington for meaningful moments in the game.

C. Despite the Caps size and physicality, they were not dominant along the boards.

D. The visitors are essentially one-dimensional in their ability to create a consistent offense.

Still, the Blueshirts lost the opener at home. A.V.’s sextet betrayed problems which raise questions for Saturday’s game. To wit:

1. How many notches can the New Yorkers boost their combat level? (At least two would be helpful.)

2. What about improved shadowing of the devastating Alex Ovechkin? (That’s possible. If the Islanders can do it, so can the Rangers.)

3. Will defenseman Dan Boyle be replaced by Matt Hunwick? (I believe that this is possible.)

The Caps’ dynamic duo of Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom somehow eluded heavy hitting from the Rangers. Or, at least, I believe that they absorbed some checking with minor inconveniences to their offense.

Solutions: Do unto Alex-Nicklas what Ovie-Backey do unto you. Also, check with Isles d-man Johnny Boychuk who nailed Ovechkin at every opportunity. Plus, Hunwick brings more to his overall game than Boyle. Play Matt!

The following are must assignments starting today for specific Rangers:

  • MARTY ST. LOUIS: Since it appears evident that Mats Zuccarello will be sidelined at least for the duration of the second round, St. Louis must be the catalyst with Rick Nash and Derick Brassard.
  • HENRIK LUNDQVIST: The King must outplay Braden Holtby. He didn’t in Game 1. On Ovechkin’s first period goal, Henny failed to cut down the angle; Hank was too far into the net. On the winner, he awkwardly brought his pads down one leg at a time. That’s a slower process and allowed the puck to slip under his left pad.
  • RICK NASH: The fans are getting antsy over The Human Howitzer and for good reason. Ditto the coach. “Rick has got to step it up,” A.V. implored.  The jump Nash displayed from Day One of the regular season is conspicuous by its absence. It must return.
  • CHRIS KREIDER: He looks like a fullback – often plays like one – and if that powerful presence is ever needed, now is the time. Not that Chris is invisible, but his visibility will mightily improve when accompanied by a red light; or four.
  • KEVIN KLEIN: The most underrated Rangers defenseman, the previously-injured Klein shed his sabbatical rust and should be a more involved factor Saturday.

Round one of the Vigneault-Trotz coaching clash went to Barry. Washington’s man had his best shooters and passers on in the final seconds while A.V. was left with the less than robust Boyle in the Rangers’ zone.

Whether Boyle was illegally flattened or not on Washington’s winning play, the point is that Dan went down and out went the Rangers.

Oh, yes, history has shown us that every playoff produces a surprise or, if you will, a “secret weapon,” so here goes with a couple of names:

On Washington’s side, the secret is out. Joel Ward, who riddled the Islanders with big plays – for example his goal in Game Seven – and torpedoed the Rangers on Thursday. It’s guaranteed that he’s now on the Blueshirts radar screen.

For New York, it has to be Carl Hagelin; not only for his histrionics against Pittsburgh but for sheer speed and a surprisingly accurate shot. Hagelin assisted on Jesper Fast‘s first career playoff goal Thursday night and has a four-game point streak.

“We move forward,” asserted Captain Ovechkin.

“We have to finish,” concluded Coach Vigneault.

Should the Rangers fail to finish in their second home game of this Second round, this could get really serious for the New Yorkers!