Tue 21 Apr 2009
As the New York Rangers start their preparations for Game on Wednesday night, they need to put Monday night’s result out of their minds. However, what they must remember is how they lost an opportunity to put a stranglehold on this series.
Prior to Game 3, John Tortorella offered this warning in a discussion with Jay Greenberg of the NY Post.
“We have fought and handled surges pretty well and what they have brought [at] us offensively. Our puck possession needs to improve. We haven’t had the puck enough this series.”
That pretty much sums up went wrong for the Rangers in Game 3.
The Blueshirts did not handle surges well – in fact it was just the opposite. The Rangers reverted back to their mid-season form of not responding to adversity. It was the old quicksand formula where the more the Rangers tried to struggle, the more they seemed to get nothing done.
The Rangers puck possession was nowhere near where it needs to be. Some of that has to do with the Capitals making a concerted effort to protect their rookie goaltender. Some of it has to do with the Rangers sitting back and reacting, rather than acting. And some of it has to do with Washington having elite players like Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom who can take over game. The only Ranger who has the ability to take over a game is Henrik Lundqvist. Unfortunately, we are in the midst of the playoffs and the Rangers can’t win games 1-0 via the shootout. In other words, The King needs a little help from his friends.
The first thing his friends can do in Game 4 (and beyond) is stay out of the penalty box and avoid a battle of power plays. Not only does the Rangers power play grind games to a halt, but constantly killing penalties also throws ice time out of whack.
This return of discipline must carry over to the Rangers defensive zone coverage. The Blueshirts have to concentrate on not getting caught running around in their own zone. Rather than drop down to clog the slot, the forwards must remain with their checks at the point – thus eliminating Washington’s ability to relieve pressure with passes back to the points.
One of the considerations the Rangers might make is revisiting the positive things they did defensively. The Capitals have 110 shots on goal – an average of nearly 37 per game.
The Rangers need their few offensive threats to step up their play and increase the quality and quantity of their scoring chances. It is one thing to merely get shots on goal; it is another thing to do it with a purpose. The Rangers have to find a way to get some open ice like they did in Game 1. One of the ways to do that is to be more aggressive with their forecheck.
Nik Antropov needs to use his size the way he did as a member of the Maple Leafs when Toronto played against the Rangers. He is the only forward who has the size/ability to come close to matching the way Ovechkin can physically dominate offensively.
While Nikolai Zherdev has been cut some slack at the start of the series because it is his first appearance in the playoffs, it is time for him to step up his play. He might be the only Ranger whose offensive abilities can come close to matching Ovechkin’s. Zherdev was active in his first couple of shifts Monday night, but he missed the net on his first three good scoring chances.
“Our game-breakers have to be better,” Tortorella explained to Greenberg. “IF you think you are boxing me in and want to pick on Nik, this is his first playoff series and this is part of the process. We have to help him, as coaches understand how hard you have to play. Our responsibility is to clue him in.”
While Tortorella was speaking exclusively about Zherdev, he needs to broaden his “game-breakers have to be better” to his entire team.
Game 3 is proof that you can’t shut down the Washington Capitals. At best, you can hope to contain them. However, it is hard to do that when you can’t maintain any sustained offensive pressure of your own.
The Rangers have to dictate the pace and tempo of the game from the opening faceoff. The best way for them to do that is to play with some urgency â€“ something that was lacking during Game 3. While Wednesday nightâ€™s game is not a â€œmust-winâ€ game, they need their play to reflect that type of attitude.
A lot has been made over Sean Averyâ€™s game last night. The Capitals did a good job of staying away from reacting to him. Even his attempt to get Simeon Varlamov off his game went awry. Of course, it might have been more productive if Varlamov spoke English.
Avery must skate a fine line because it is obvious that the target on his back has grown since returning from his suspension. He must take heed that when he goes over the line and acts like an ass he is only making himself a bigger target.
Game 4 will show whether or not the Rangers loss on Monday night was an inevitable occurrence given their five game winning streak dating back to the final three games of the regular season (which were pretty much playoff games in their own right) or was the loss a glimpse into the future of this series.
One final note to the Madison Square Garden Network and Cablevision â€“ lose those stupidly ridiculous ads on the Plexiglas. They go beyond annoying and distracting. Those ads, along with distributing thundersticks, reeks of amateur hour.
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