Biggest Lessons Learned from Start of New York Rangers' Playoff Campaign

Jeremy FuchsCorrespondent IIIMay 5, 2013

Biggest Lessons Learned from Start of New York Rangers' Playoff Campaign

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    The New York Rangers are down two games to zero in their first-round playoff matchup against the Washington Capitals.

    In both games, they haven't looked awful, but they haven't looked great either. They have wasted numerous chances and have scored just one goal.

    What have we learned from the first two games of the playoff campaign? What has gone well and what needs massive improvement?

    If the Rangers want to come back in this series, then they will need to heed these lessons and apply them to the next few games. They're not out of the series, but time is ticking.

    Read on to find out what we've learned from the postseason thus far and what the Rangers can do to get back in this series. 

The Rangers' Power Play Is Awful

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    The Rangers have had seven power-play opportunities. They have scored zero times. In 13 minutes on the man-advantage, they have gotten just 10 shots off.

    But let's go further. Most of the Rangers' chances on the power play have come from the point, from either Brad Richards or Mats Zuccarello. They don't have the hardest of shots. There's no rebound opportunities and no real presence up front.

    Rick Nash may not be Alexander Ovechkin, but he's pretty close. The Capitals use Ovechkin wisely on the power play. They start him at the left point and inch him down closer and closer, slowly, until he's just below the faceoff circle. In the meantime, he's firing off slap shot after slap shot.

    What is Nash doing? Sitting on the half-wall, waiting for the puck to come to him, not moving. The Caps know this and force coverage to his side, leaving the only real open shots to come from the point.

    There's two options here. Either move Nash to the point and have him direct traffic or, more desirably, replicate what the Caps do. Move Nash slowly down the wall on the right side and let him laser slap shots towards the net. Put Brian Boyle, Ryan Callahan, Ryane Clowe or even Taylor Pyatt in front to get rebounds and poke it in.

    That's what's made the Capitals so effective on the power play. And that's what the Rangers need to do.

    The Rangers have had their chances, but they will be eliminated quickly if they don't score when it matters most. They had a chance in overtime in Game 2 on the power play but wasted it. The Caps scored a few minutes later, with a power-play goal of their own, and they won the game. That dichotomy tells you all you need to know about the series so far. 

Dumb Penalties

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    The Capitals have the best power play in the league. And while the Rangers have let in just two power-play goals in seven opportunities, they have simply taken too many dumb penalties.

    Take Arron Asham's penalty in Game 1 for an illegal hit to the head. That led to a power-play goal.

    Or take Ryan McDonagh's penalty for delay of game after he lifted the puck into the stands. That led to the game-winning power-play goal in overtime of Game 2.

    Even if the penalty kill has been pretty good, giving the Caps that many opportunities on the man-advantage is a recipe for disaster. 

    The Caps have had 13 shots on the man-advantage and have spent a total of 11 minutes on the power play. That's 11 minutes that the Rangers are on their heels and 11 minutes that the Caps are threatening.

    That's too much, because the Capitals' power play is way too good.  The Caps converted on 26.8 percent of their chances in the regular season.

    The Rangers are playing with fire here. Penalties are inevitable. But taking dumb penalties is just a recipe for a quick exit. The Rangers need to be more disciplined or they will find it hard to stay in this series much longer. 

Is Braden Holtby That Good?

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    Braden Holtby has been incredible in this postseason. In two games, Holtby has let up just one goal. He has a ridiculous 0.47 goals-against average and a .983 save percentage.

    The Rangers have looked pretty punchless on offense, an assertion Holtby pretty much confirmed (via the Washington Post):

    “It wasn’t a very hard game for me,” Holtby said after the game. “We did an outstanding job. Penalty kills are usually where you get the most work and if you eliminate that it’s basically just making the saves that you have to make. A shutout’s one thing but a win is the big thing.”

    “It wasn’t a very straining game on a goalie,” Holtby said. “It probably didn’t even reach double digits in scoring chances. I felt comfortable out there but there’s still room for improvement.”

    Maybe it's just me, but usually playoff games should be hard for the goaltender. They should be lucky to escape. They shouldn't be saying after the game that it wasn't very straining.

    That's where we find ourselves. The Rangers' offense is so bad that Holtby has a nice little vacation out there.

    Okay, maybe it's not that bad, and Holtby should know that the Rangers did have 13 scoring chances.

    But that's not the point. Holtby is way too comfortable and he is making the game look easy. News flash, Rangers offense—Holtby is not normally this good.

    He's not awful, to be sure, but over the course of the regular season, Holtby had a 2.58 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage. He's good, but he's not Patrick Roy. He's not Martin Brodeur.

    So the Rangers need to make Holtby's life more miserable. A solution? Put Brian Boyle in front of the net more often, either on the power play or in any situation. He's 6'7". It sounds simple, but place him in front of the net and make it hard for Holtby to see. Derek Dorsett and Ryane Clowe, if and when he comes back, need to be more of a net presence. Ryan Callahan needs to be more effective around the net.

    It might not be an awful idea to put Michael Haley in the lineup, who showed he could be a pugnacious player in his limited opportunities this season. Above all, however, the Rangers need to get as many shots as possible on Holtby from as many angles as possible. Once they enter the zone, put it on net. Crash the net hard and hope there's a rebound opportunity.

    Holtby is not this good, and the Rangers will eventually score. But they need to get some dirty goals. They need to muck it up down low and hope Holtby, who has just 71 games of pro experience, makes a mental mistake that gets the Rangers back in this series. 

Derek Dorsett Is Good, But the Rangers Miss Ryane Clowe

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    Derek Dorsett made his Rangers debut in Game 2, and he was pretty effective. He played more than 15 minutes and was as advertised. He was a bowling ball, running all over the ice and hitting everything that moved. He did not look like he missed nearly two months. He did not look like he was playing in his first game with a new team.

    Dorsett's job is to be an agitator, to play a Brandon Prust-type role and to be like Sean Avery while not crossing the line that Avery so often did.

    The Rangers will need Dorsett to continue to be effective. The Rangers have to be more physical, especially with Alexander Ovechkin. If the Rangers can get Ovechkin off his game, even just a little bit, than it's a success.

    But Dorsett can't do it alone, which is why the Rangers have really missed Ryane Clowe. Out since April 25 with what's, according to the New York Daily News, believed to be a concussion, the Rangers have missed Clowe's physical play. A line of Derek Dorsett, Derick Brassard and Ryane Clowe could do some real damage, both with some heavy hitting and more offense.

    The more physical the Rangers are, the better off they will be. Ovechkin's life has been too easy. He needs to be pounded into the offensive zone, and needs to be goaded into taking dumb penalties. Of course, that would mean the Rangers would have to go on the power play, and that has been an unmitigated disaster. 

    But the less time that Ovechkin has the puck in the offensive zone and the less time the Caps are on the man-advantage, the better.

    Clowe said he could jump right into the lineup when medically cleared (via New York Daily News):

    “I feel like at this time of year I could jump in any time, just because of – I’ve played a lot of hockey up to this point, and I just feel you can always run on – it was kind of like my first game in New York,” Clowe said. “I didn’t really have any sleep, but you run on adrenaline to get you back into it. So I don’t think conditioning is that big of a factor.”

    The Rangers need Clowe back as soon as possible. The combination of Clowe and Dorsett could give the Rangers something they haven't had since last year, when it was Prust and Brian Boyle mucking it up and creating offense. Boyle hasn't been the same this year, and perhaps that has something to do with Prust being in Montreal. But Clowe and Dorsett are a potentially more dangerous version of that duo. The sooner Clowe gets on the ice, the better. Because time is running out. 

It's All About Offense

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    It's always about offense. The Rangers have scored just one goal in two games. The one goal, a wraparound attempt by Carl Hagelin that deflected off of a Capitals defenseman's skate and into the net, was a bit of a fluke.

    The Rangers' offensive woes has been well documented. Even with Rick Nash, the Rangers are still their usual snake-bitten selves. 

    And yes, it's only two games, which is not a reflection of what this team can do. But it's two playoff games, and now the Rangers are down two games to zero and face a must-win situation in every game going forward.

    And sure, they've hit a number of posts, most notably Rick Nash in the waning minutes of the second game. But that doesn't cure anything. 

    They have recorded 60 shots in two games and have just one goal. That's a pretty big failure. 

    Look, it's simple. If the Rangers can't break out of their offensive woes, they will be bounced in four games, turning a potentially promising season into a disappointing end. 

    So yes, the onus is on Rick Nash to be even more aggressive than he was in Game 2. The onus is on Ryan Callahan to muck it up in front of the net and create some dirty goals. The onus is on Brad Richards to be more assertive with the puck in five-on-five situations. The onus is on Derick Brassard to prove that he's more than a third-line center. The onus is on Mats Zuccarello to prove he's not too small to last in the league. The onus is on Derek Stepan to make Rick Nash's life easier with some sublime passes.

    So yes, everyone is on notice. Zuccarello is probably fighting for his NHL life. If he can't prove anything in the playoffs, then maybe he's simply too small to last in the league. The Rangers have the talent to make a long run. But it will mean nothing it the puck doesn't go in the net.