Memo to the “hockey experts” who predicted that the New York Rangers would easily dispatch the Ottawa Senators in 4 or 5 games: Go back and watch all 4 games of the season series between these 2 teams. If you had asked Rangers fans as the regular season wound down which potential opponent they’d least like to see in the first round, odds are it would have been the Senators and they are proving just why.
A lot of credit has to be given to the Senators. Craig Anderson has been good when he’s had to be, holding the Rangers to 9 goals in 4 games. They’ve also been able to adapt their play after game 1 to match the Rangers’ physical style, inserting Matt Carkner and Zenon Konopka into their lineup. The Senators have also managed to create more traffic in Henrik Lundqvist’s crease – Konopka making his presence felt in this area – something the Rangers have to contend with and find a way to clear out with the personnel they have. (I’ve contended several times this is what the Rangers have glaringly missed since the days of Jeff Beukeboom, and it’s probably what they are hoping prospect Dylan McIlrath will be down the line.) They do have 6’8″ 270 pound John Scott at their disposal to throw out there, but in a series where they’re trying to contend with the speed of their opponent, his overall game is more of a liability than his size would be an asset.
Konopka’s physical play is not the only aspect of his game that has had an impact. He also has a 68.6 faceoff win percentage in the 3 games he’s played. It’s not just him who has turned the Blueshirts into roadkill in the faceoff circle. Through Friday’s games, the Senators have the best faceoff percentage of the 16 playoff teams (54.5%) and the Rangers dead last (45.5%). A quick look at the faceoff stats show the disparity in the wins and losses:
|New York Rangers|
|Player||Faceoffs Taken||Faceoff %|
|Player||Faceoffs Taken||Faceoff %|
The Senators have spent a lot of time with the puck, controlling play, carrying momentum and taking shots. Lots of shots. In the series, they’ve outshot the Rangers by 18 (134 to 116), but they’ve by far and away blown them out of the water on attempts (299 to 205). In Wednesday’s loss alone the disparity was a staggering 87 to 49. About a third of those (30) made it to Lundqvist, with the remainder missing the net or being blocked.
After the early nastiness of this series and other series around the NHL, the referees called game 4 much tighter. The Rangers had trouble staying out of the penalty box and it did wind up burning them when Sergei Gonchar tied the game at 2 after Artem Anisimov took a hooking penalty. Ottawa did a pretty good job of marching to the box themselves in game 4, giving the Blueshirts 7 opportunities. They got out to a quick start with 2 power play goals (not a typo, they actually did score 2 on the power play), one by Anton Stralman and one by Ryan Callahan within the first 6:10 of the game. After that, nothing. For the series the power play is (dys)functioning at 16.7%, surprisingly that 1% better than they were in the regular season. Yes, the Bruins managed to win a Stanley Cup last season with a 16.2% power play in the regular season and a 11.4% effectiveness in the playoffs but they were able to generate goals in other situations to get them to the 16 needed wins.
The Rangers, on the other hand, have not cranked out a whole lot of offense. Part of it is the goaltending of Anderson and lack of puck possession noted above, but the places one would expect the scoring would come from have disappeared. Boyle, who began to heat up toward the end of the season, leads the team with 3 goals. Ryan Callahan has 2; Anton Stralman who had all of 2 in the regular season, has 2. Marian Gaborik had 1 in game 1 and aside from 2 assists in the series, hasn’t been heard from since. Perhaps Gaborik being so quiet can be correlated to the 3-game suspension of his speedy rookie linemate Carl Hagelin, which helps to create opportunities. Hagelin will serve his final game tonight and will be available to return for game 6 on Monday. Chris Kreider, who was thrown into Hagelin’s place after signing his entry level contract, has seen limited ice time. Derek Stepan has wavered between looking lost and invisible in this series. Brandon Dubinsky’s season-long offensive slump has spilled into the playoffs. Getting tossed in game 2 for being 3rd man in after coming to Boyle’s aid did not light the fire you might have expected in the games that have followed. This is not to place the blame for lack of offensive output solely on them or on missing Hagelin; there are plenty of people on that roster who need to try and step up. When Stralman, a defenseman who had 2 goals in 53 games in the regular season, is your 3rd leading scorer then something is terribly wrong.
The Rangers have handled adversity and distractions well all season. There’s no magic wand that can instantly fix the power play and faceoff woes that have troubled them through 86 games. Ottawa has managed to respond and adapt to the Rangers’ game. Now it’s their turn to do likewise if they want to be playing hockey beyond next week.
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About the Author: Likes: Hockey, the New York Rangers, King Henrik, singing the Rangers goal song, "The Save", the sound skates make against ice, heckling Marty Brodeur. Dislikes: 3-point games, front-office mismanagement, Denis Potvin, overpriced arena beer. Interested? Follow me on Twitter: @CC_927