The NY Rangers celebrate a goal against the Washington Capitals.
It’s taken the New York Rangers just three playoff games to prove that their late-season push was something of a fallacy and they’re still an inconsistent, underachieving hockey team.
Before their four-goal performance on Monday night in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series with the Washington Capitals, the Rangers had only scored one goal in roughly seven periods of hockey.
Simply staggering when you consider the Rangers were the league’s highest scoring team in the month of April. How could they possibly run totally dry in the first two games of the playoffs?
Well, because they’re an unpredictable hockey club. You never really know what you’re going to get from the Blueshirts on a nightly basis. Inconsistency has haunted them all season long, why would things be different now?
Still, they managed to reach the playoffs, and now that they've begun, the Rangers need to stabilize their erratic performances the best they can.
Despite their overall poor playoff performances, there are a handful of players playing good hockey. The problem is there are just as many playing dreadfully. When you've got half your team playing well and the other half playing subpar, you’re bound to have consistency issues.
On the eve of Game 4, we’ll take a look at the Rangers’ two hottest players and two coldest players, and discuss what it is they’re doing well or what they’re doing wrong.
Henrik Lundqvist may have played his best game as a Ranger in Game 2 on Saturday.
He registered 37 saves—some of which were of the spectacular variety—and allowed only one goal.
And, naturally, the Rangers lost 1-0. They couldn't support Lundqvist with even one goal.
If that doesn't sum up how things have gone for The King since he’s arrived in New York, then I don’t know what does.
Following that godlike performance, Lundqvist again stood tall in Game 3. A plethora of point-blank saves on streaking Washington forwards kept the Rangers in it and ultimately allowed them to win a one-goal game, 4-3.
Lundqvist can attribute his early series successes to his ability to see pucks and control rebounds. If he can see the puck, and it doesn't catch an odd bounce, you can bet Lundqvist is going to save it. And if he can save it, he’s almost always going to hold onto it.
He’s done just about everything he can do neutralize the Caps’ offense, but unfortunately the rest of the team isn't holding up their part of the bargain.
We knew Hank would have to be immense if the Rangers were to have a chance at winning this series, but his showings in both Games 2 and 3 have exceed expectations. He shouldn't have to be this good, especially considering the talent that’s playing directly in front of him.
But that’s how it seems it will play out. After the Game 2 debacle, it’s clear as day that Lundqvist will have to be nearly perfect if the Rangers are going to win any more games.
Lucky for them, he seems up to the task.
Michael Del Zotto.
There’s no other way to say it: Michael Del Zotto has been really, really bad in the first three games of this series.
At times it doesn't even look like he’s trying. He’s got no jump and he’s been caught flatfooted so many times I've lost count. Whether he’s facing an opponent entering the Rangers’ zone or beneath the hash marks, he’s probably going to be beat.
Whatever happened to the physical, confident blueliner who was not only supposed to run the team’s power play, but intimidate the opposition in the defensive zone?
Who knows if he’s cracking under pressure or just struggling to contain the speedy opposition, but he clearly lacks the urgency and desperation needed to be successful in the playoffs.
He’s a player with a load of talent and ability, and it’s those attributes that make him an attractive selection for head coach John Tortorella. Del Zotto plays big minutes in big situations, and his alarming play does not bode well for a team found running around in their own zone way too often.
He’s proven he can’t run the power play, and now he can’t even find his way in his own zone. Del Zotto has become a liability, and if it were my call, he’d be sitting next game, yielding Steve Eminger in his place.
The Rangers are a team having trouble defending against the high-octane Washington offense, and they can’t afford to have a pedestrian defenseman in the lineup.
Game 3 was only the third playoff game of Derick Brassard’s injury-riddled NHL career, but that didn't stop him from having a monster outing.
Unlike many other teammates, Brassard has not allowed the pressure of playoff hockey get to him. His three-point performance in Game 3 was the determining factor that allowed the Rangers to pick up their first victory of the 2013 playoffs.
And considering how anemic the Rangers’ offense has been so far, it’s safe to say that Brassard’s latest performance solidifies him as the team’s best offensive option at the moment.
It was his strong skating ability and top-notch passing skill that allowed him to take over Game 3. The Rangers' second goal was scored because Brassard was able to work his way into the corner, fend off an opponent and make a sublime pass to a streaking Arron Asham in front of the net.
He’s also been by far the Rangers’ best option in the faceoff circle. His 59.4 percent success ratio has been superior to both Derek Stepan’s 48.6 percent and Brad Richards’ 37.5 percent.
With the rest of the team lacking any creativity or real sense of urgency, Brassard has been a breath of fresh air. Now, if the rest of the team would follow suit, then we’d have a series on our hands.
Oh, how quickly things can change.
It was just two weeks ago that Brad Richards was named the NHL’s Second Star of the Week for the week ending April 21. He had four goals and seven points in four games, and even registered his first career hat trick against the Buffalo Sabres on April 19.
It seemed as if Richards was just hitting his stride before the playoffs started.
Turns out he wasn't.
His semi-successful end of April might as well have never happened, as Richards has returned to his regular, abysmal self in the opening three games of the playoffs.
Zero points, minus-one rating, 37.5 percent faceoff percentage, and to top it off, he takes a horrible penalty with less than two minutes to go in Game 3 with his team up one goal. And the Capitals have the best power play in the league. Brilliant.
It’s not all about the stats either. Richards cannot handle the puck, never mind actually make an effective play. It seems every time he actually gets the puck he stops skating and either gives it away or is stripped of it.
Richards is supposed to be the Rangers’ top-line centerman, and if he can’t win a faceoff or create any offense off his stick, what can he possibly be doing? Not helping in the defensive zone, I’ll tell you that.
He’s going to have to wake up and do it soon. Depth at center is huge in the playoffs; the Rangers can’t rely on just two while their $60 million man coasts along.