Play it simple — The Mantra from 396 Hockey Coaches
Those three little words – play it simple – are easy to say, but harder to implement for a hockey club on the brink of elimination.
Yet, those three little words appear to be the easy answer as the Rangers prepare for the most consequential game of their 2014-15 lives Friday at The Garden.
The Seventh Avenue Skaters must beat the ultra-pesky Capitals or pack up their troubles in their own kit bags and pine for what was not.
Here’s the winning mantra in three little paragraphs which are all about ending the parching Blueshirts goal draught that has put them behind the eight-ball in this series.
- THE ATTACK: Keep attacking the net straightforward; it almost worked in Game 4; but not quite. Goalie Braden Holtby can be beaten.
- THE SHOTS: Don’t waste time as Derek Stepan did in Game 4 allowing Karl Alzner to block what looked like a sure goal. Shoot fast from every angle; support by going to the net hard. Shooting from the outside has produced very little for the Rangers the first four games, they must start firing at anything in sight inside the hashmarks.
- THE GOALIE: Make it tougher than ever for the supremely confident Holtby. Get even more traffic in front of him. Convert as many rebounds as possible.
- THE OBVIOUS: It’s called “puck management.” Translated: either Marc Staal or Chris Kreider should have chipped the puck out of danger on Washington’s first goal Wednesday night. Plus, Ryan McDonagh needed to clear the rubber before Andre Burakovsky soloed in to beat Henrik Lundqvist on the winner.
Easily the most astute assessment of the Rangers’ predicament comes to The Maven’s desk from my super-NHL-spy, Gus Vic.
“The Caps,” Vic explained, “are winning this series based on the simplicity of their game.
“The Rangers, despite considerable dominance in puck possession, zone time and opportunities generated, are still hurting themselves by making a simple game too complex.”
In other words, forget the extra pass; take the shot.
It’s easy to reflect that the Rangers rebounded from a 3-1 playoff deficit a year ago against Pittsburgh. But these are the indomitable Capitals – coached by super-savvy Barry Trotz – paced by Holtby, who knows how his team has changed.
“We’re a better club than we were in the past,” Holtby explained. “We’re more prepared for the playoffs. We worked on this all year; being concerned about the post-season. Regular season or now, our structure is very similar.”
Sure, “structure,” – whatever that means – is a factor but when you come down to it, Washington has won the individual clashes. But there’s still time for that to change. Consider the following:
- LUNDQVIST VS. HOLTBY: No question “The King” must play the game of his lifetime in Game 5. Break it down to this; Holtby on Wednesday night stopped Carl Hagelin on the penalty shot. By contrast, Burakovsky outwitted Henrik on Andre’s break-in off the boards.
- NASH VS. OVECHKIN: The Rangers’ best players must be the best tonight. Which means that Rick – with no goals in the series – must deliver. Ovechkin has done his bit with two red lights so far. It’s on Nash!
- VIGNEAULT VS. TROTZ: A.V. has worked to compensate for the loss of near Rangers’ MVP Mats Zuccarello. Marty St. Louis remains the most likely sub, but Zucky is inimitable, and it’s showing. Trotz has the Caps playing the best total defense in franchise history. John Carlson can vouch for that.
“Everybody’s diving everywhere,” said Carlson. “Everyone is trying to do whatever he can to keep the puck out of the net.”
Still, the Rangers have enjoyed scoring chances galore along with ice domination. But it’s come down to the fact that A.V. now must give his most talented players the most ice time.
That points to Hagelin, Stepan, Kreider, St.Louis, Nash, Derick Brassard, Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller.
Meanwhile, the defense must be even tighter for what could be another one-goal-difference game.
My fellow MSG.com blogger, David Kolb, notes that the Rangers have two lefties – McDonagh and Keith Yandle – manning the power-play points.
“Yandle,” Kolb suggested, “should be playing the right point – with his stick in the middle of the ice – and Kevin Klein, a righty, should be on the left point. Sticks in the middle of the ice are essential on the PP to either fire one-timers or move the puck quickly.”
That’s just a thought; but one worth contemplating. But there’s also the mental part, as in playing the most desperate hockey every Ranger ever will do, Friday night.
The series will not be over if the Rangers will it to remain alive. Guaranteed, the motivation will be there.
“This series and this season is not over,” captain McDonagh insisted.
Pepper-pot Dominic Moore seconded the motion. “We know that we can find another level. We have done it before.”
“Our core has past experience dealing with this situation,” added Vigneault. “I expect them to pass their experience and leadership to the remainder of the group.”
That’s keeping it simple – to the point.
Now for the goals!