Mon 28 Apr 2008
The Rangers-Penguins series is far from over. However, the Rangers need to raise their level of play. They seem to have returned to their mid-winter malaise where the team either scored goals/didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t play solid defense, or the team played well defensively/ couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t find any offensive consistency.
Make no mistake about it, the Rangers do face a daunting task. The Rangers have faced a two games to none deficit 18 times in their history and have only one series win to show for it Ã¢â‚¬â€œ 1996 against Montreal when the Rangers came back to sweep the Canadiens. Conversely, the Penguins have won seven of nine series when they had a two games to none lead. Then again, who would have thought the Rangers would have blown a five goal lead against Montreal this season?
The Rangers cannot concern themselves with returning to Mellon Arena tied at two games apiece. Right now there focus needs to be on Game 3 because Game 4 will take care of itself. With that said, here are some areas the Broadway Blues need to address heading into Game 3 on Tuesday night.
1. URGENCY Ã¢â‚¬â€œ The Rangers backs may not be against the wall, but they are getting closer and closer. The team has to find a way to play with Ã¢â‚¬Å“desperate controlÃ¢â‚¬Â that Mike Milbury mentioned prior to Game 2. I am not a fan of Milbury, but even a blind squirrel finds an acorn every now and them.
2. The Rangers need to put the Ã¢â‚¬Å“specialÃ¢â‚¬Â back in special teams. The Penguins two game winning goals have been power play tallies. The Rangers need to take a page out of the Pens playbook and put two men in front to screen/harass/annoy Marc-Andre Fleury. In addition, the Rangers have to move the puck and themselves in order to create scoring chances. Pittsburgh is doing a fine job of clogging the shooting lanes and movement (puck and players) is the way to open up those lanes.
3. Better puck control and ice balance are two keys to success at both ends of the ice. Once again the Rangers failure to clear the puck cost them a goal. Marc Staal was unable to clear the puck and Michael Rozsival left the slot to help Staal with Evgeni Malkin Ã¢â‚¬â€œ thus leaving Jordan Staal open in front. Puck control includes getting pucks out of the zone when the opportunity presents itself. It also includes eliminating the bad clearances up the middle of the ice. The boards are there for a reason Ã¢â‚¬â€œ use them. Ice balance includes the forwards not clumping up to one side of the ice and it includes the defense corps’ bad habit of playing too wide Ã¢â‚¬â€œ which is how Marian Hossa walked in on a first period breakaway.
4. In order to strike a balance between the Game 1 offense and the Game 2 defense, the Rangers must increase their forechecking and physical play in combination with getting the puck deep. The Penguins are doing a solid job of standing the Rangers up at the blue line. As a result, the Rangers must get the puck deep and work the Penguins defensemen. The Pens blueliners are good, but they are beatable if the Blueshirts can get serious pressure on them.
5. The Rangers must work Fleury the same way they did Martin Brodeur Ã¢â‚¬â€œ with Sean Avery toning down his Marty antics a bit. The Rangers forced Brodeur into mistakes by being a presence in front of him Ã¢â‚¬â€œ something they are not doing to Fleury.
6. The veteran leadership has to step up. It is now the time for the likes of Chris Drury, Scott Gomez and Brendan Shanahan to show their leadership and live up to their big-game personas.
7. Tom Renney might want to consider a couple of lineup changes. He needs to move Petr Prucha up with Avery and Gomez and drop Shanahan to the fourth line. It will add much needed speed to the Gomez line and keep Shanahan fresher for special teams work. It also gives the Rangers a solid defensive fourth line. The other change might be to roll the dice and insert Andrew Hutchinson into the lineup. Since he was one of 10 players recalled from Hartford, I have to presume that there are no issued with him having to clear waivers. He is a risk defensively, but he might be the power play spark the Rangers need. Renney could conceivably sit a forward and dress seven defensemen and use Hutchinson as a power play specialist. That would open up the opportunity for Renney to double shift Jagr in hopes the captain will shake free from his shadows. Would Renney consider reuniting his HBO Line? Ryan Hollweg, Blair Betts and Colton Orr were an effective line when matched against Sidney CrosbyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s line.
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