Next Year has arrived for the Rangers.
Too soon. Far too soon.
The Blueshirts high command will review the results of New York’s 4-1 series defeat administered by the Penguins. But that will take time, and there’s lots of time for the x-rays of the exit.
Reminder: The Rangers were pushed out the door by a Pittsburgh club which showcased strong second- and third-string goalies manning the irons.
Granted, Pittsburgh roared into the playoffs as one of the National Hockey League’s hottest franchises. But more was expected from a Manhattan team that had mastered the Pens in last year’s tourney.
No question, the Seventh Avenue Skaters were hampered by a late-season injury to Ryan McDonagh. The captain made a valiant return, still not in mint condition, but it was a little too late.
If any single play summed up the series, it took place in the second period of Saturday’s game with the Penguins still within catching distance.
Gifted with an open right side of the net, Rick Nash couldn’t get enough on the shot and missed the chance. The home club’s counterattack resulted in a goal, which opened the floodgates for the eventual series winners. Nash was a tireless worker who accomplished some positives.
One could sum up the series – as my astute Rangers-watcher Gus Vic did – in this manner: “The series was as much what the Rangers didn’t do as what Pittsburgh did to them. Granted that the Penguins played very well, but there is a very clear strategy to beating them and the Rangers did so in Game 2.”
Perhaps, the Blueshirts simply were worn out having endured long playoffs over the past few years. Perhaps, Alain Vigneault will have to devise new game plans for the players he will employ.
“We’ve got disappointment throughout management, coaches, and players,” sums up the coach, “and the Rangers fans. We all wanted and expected more.”
Henrik Lundqvist, who carried the club during the regular season, was not himself over the last two losses. It’s conceivable that his eye injury suffered in Game 1 may have had an effect on his game.
“I just didn’t have it in me to make the difference,” The King confesses. “I wasn’t able to come up with the big extra saves. I was not making good reads.”
As the finale pushed past the half-way mark and when goals were most needed, the chances evaporated like smoke rings.
The general staff knows that the evaluations must begin from top to bottom, a point made by AV in his post mortem.
“We’re going to go through all of the steps from coaches to management – what we’re thinking, player evaluation and what this team needs to do to take the next step,” Vigneault concludes.
There’s plenty of talent remaining in the core: McDonagh, Derek Stepan, Kreider, J.T. Miller and Kevin Klein are a few who should be a part of any roster restructuring.
How that all unfolds is up for future interpretation.