PITTSBURGH — Brad Richards can be understandably fussy if he’s asked a question that he feels has ulterior motives or is one that has been asked ad nauseam during one media scrum or over the course of a week or two.
After scoring a goal in the New York Rangers' 3-2 overtime victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1 of their conference semifinal series, Richards should have been in a good mood, but a certain topic was getting on his last nerve.
The power play.
“Really, when you win a game in overtime,” an annoyed Richards said Friday night, “the last thing I’m thinking about is what happened on the power play an hour-and-a-half ago. ... It’s going to have to come up big for us. We plan on that. We’ve got players there. Sometimes it takes on a life of its own.
“Like, right now, I’m talking 10 minutes in a row about power play. We just won Game 1 in overtime and no one’s talking about that.”
In taking that 1-0 series lead, the Rangers went 0-for-4 on the power play. Since scoring three times on its first eight chances of the postseason, the Rangers power play is an anemic 0-for-25. It has yet to cause any cataclysmic destruction, as the Rangers are 4-2 in the playoffs in games in which they’ve failed to score a power-play goal.
It doesn’t mean it can't snowball into a problem, however.
Richards was more willing to talk about the power-play flaccidity during a day of rest for the Rangers on Saturday, although no one seems to have the magic bullet to cure what is ailing the team.
“In my opinion, we’re trying to look for things and map it out a little bit too much,” Richards said. “That happens sometimes in a playoff series where you’re watching them so much, seeing so much video and you’re trying to exploit everything. Really, you have to just play hockey. That’s why we’re out there, to be creative.”
|New York Rangers' power-play numbers|
|Regular season||18.2||15 of 30|
|Playoffs||9.1||15 of 16|
The power play has failed in a variety ways, some statistical and some that can be ascertained with the naked eye. For one, when the opponent is able to clear the zone, watching the Rangers try to regain access to the offensive zone is like watching Winnie the Pooh try to squeeze through that tiny hole to get his honey. Teams have been able to stand up the Rangers at the blue line with the greatest of ease for the most part.
When the puck is in the zone and the Rangers set up, they have either been victimized by the aggressive nature of the penalty-killers, as was the case many times against the Philadelphia Flyers, or the five-man group appears trapped in an invisible force field that doesn’t allow them to move freely. The Rangers power play has become more predictable than your average romantic comedy and only slightly less painful to watch.
The Rangers have only been able to generate 24 shots on their past 25 empty power plays.
Is it time Vigneault considered making personnel changes on the power play? Perhaps replacing Dan Girardi on the point on the second unit with Anton Stralman?
“That’s a good question,” Vigneault said. “We are getting some good looks. On our first power play (in Game 1), we had some real good opportunities. But there’s two things—one, I think sometimes you have to trust your players are going to find a way to get it done. The other thing that comes into consideration also is at this time of year, we don’t practice a lot. We don’t work on a lot of things.
“So I’m thinking of all those things right now and I’m going to try to come up with a solution.”
It's not all bad news for the Rangers.
Recent history has shown that a team can have a dreadful power play and can still win the Stanley Cup if it’s a dominant team at five-on-five.
The past two champions of 82-game seasons were the Boston Bruins in 2011 and the Los Angeles Kings in 2012. Both the Bruins and Kings couldn’t score a power-play goal during the first three rounds of the playoffs if the NHL had made it legal to throw the puck into the net, yet they managed to survive until the Stanley Cup Final.
Through three rounds in 2011, the Bruins were 5-for-61 (8.2 percent); through three rounds in 2012, the Kings were 6-for-73 (8.2 percent).
Through eight games this year, the Rangers' power play sits at 9.1 percent.
Both the Bruins and Kings kicked it to another level in the finals, as Boston went 5-for-27 (18.5 percent) in beating the Vancouver Canucks in seven games while Los Angeles went 6-for-21 (28.6 percent) in beating the New Jersey Devils in six games.
What allowed the Bruins and Kings to stay afloat for three rounds was their excellent play at five-on-five. The Kings held a 35-23 scoring advantage at five-on-five during the 2012 playoffs while the Bruins massacred teams 60-33 at five-on-five in 2011.
The Rangers aren’t quite at the level of the Bruins, but they are a four-line team, like the Bruins and Kings, that has had a five-on-five advantage all season. So far in these playoffs, the Rangers are outscoring opponents 18-10 at five-on-five, and their plus-eight margin is the best in the league.
There’s no reason for the Rangers to panic about their power play when they’ve run the show at even strength. But at some point, as the Bruins and Kings proved, if the Rangers want to win the Stanley Cup, the power play will have to show up at some point between now and June.
Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo.