Penguins vs. Rangers Game 3: Keys for Each Team
If the New York Rangers fail to advance to the Eastern Conference Final, they're going to look back at Game 2 as a missed opportunity to put the Pittsburgh Penguins on the mat. The Blueshirts were badly outplayed through long stretches of the first and second periods, yet only trailed by a goal heading into the final frame.
Henrik Lundqvist was outstanding, making 24 saves in the first 40 minutes alone, and the Rangers only needed a single tally to hijack a game from the Penguins. They failed to convert on four power-play chances for the second game in a row and only came up with five shots in the third, thus allowing Pittsburgh back into the series.
The different between a 2-0 lead heading back to Madison Square Garden and a 1-1 tie is dramatic. The Rangers are still playing with house money after winning Game 1, but Game 2 was winnable for them.
This is still a choppy, penalty-filled series, and both squads have plenty to work on as the contests shift to the Big Apple for Games 3 and 4.
All statistics appear courtesy of NHL.com unless otherwise noted and are accurate through Game 2.
New York Rangers Key: Establish a Power-Play Quarterback
Someone needs to step up and take control of New York's ailing power play. They're 0-of-8 in the second round alone and they aren't generating any quality chances. Special teams are a fickle beast and sometimes folks overreact to a goalless stretch, but the Rangers aren't creating any positive momentum while playing with the extra man, either.
When the Penguins aren't scoring on the power play, they're still creating. Sidney Crosby is getting his legs moving. Kris Letang is building momentum. Evgeni Malkin is warming up the stick with one-time chances. The goal might not come, but there's still a push after the power play because positive things happened for two minutes.
The Rangers have been devoid of this in the second round, and they have too many offensive weapons for it to continue. Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards, Rick Nash—someone needs to start funneling the power play toward the net.
Pittsburgh's best players run the power play. Now a Blueshirt needs to step up and start creating chances.
Pittsburgh Penguins Key: Be Aware of Embellishment
Everyone dives. Players on your favorite team embellish penalties just as often as whatever team you hate. That said, the Rangers have been doing a particularly good job of drawing calls throughout the playoffs so far.
It was a hallmark of Alain Vigneault's teams in Vancouver, and he seems to have brought that idealism to New York. At this point it's something that Dan Bylsma needs to address with his players. Don't get the hands up in anyone's face or this will happen.
Dan Carcillo and Derek Dorsett are prime-time agitators who are there to goad Pittsburgh's top players into sitting in the penalty box for two minutes. Letang, Malkin, James Neal and Matt Niskanen were all whistled for infractions in Game 2, in part thanks to New York's creative theatrics.
Again: Everyone does this. The Rangers are getting Pittsburgh to play along, though, and they shouldn't be falling for it.
New York Rangers Key: Establish a Multilayered Attack
Marc-Andre Fleury is an acrobatic goaltender. Sometimes his spastic movements and push-offs leave him a little out of position, which can lead to goals. The Rangers haven't done a good enough job of making "Flower" adjust his angle and depth in goal on the fly.
That's because New York has been taking the zone and attacking in a straight line far too often. There's no third forward trailing the play to create that second wave of attackers, and the defensemen haven't been particularly effective at jumping into the play, either.
Goal-mouth passes and saucers through the slot can't be forced. They lead to turnovers and worse, alleviate the pressure on and around Fleury. Instead of stacking up and pushing forward in a line, the Rangers need their third forward to hang back at the top of the slot to give the guys down low a better passing option.
Pittsburgh Penguins Key: Get in Henrik Lundqvist's Kitchen
Some goalies are easily rattled and others aren't. Lundqvist doesn't get shaken up too often, but he's become increasingly vocal across the first two games of the series. Chris Kunitz seems to have drawn his ire in particular, and that's a positive for Pittsburgh (when Kunitz isn't taking goalie interference penalties).
Lundqvist isn't going to have a meltdown because a few forwards crash his crease, but it could throw him off his game a bit. The Penguins established a net-front presence early in Game 2 and stuck to it instead of bailing like they did in Game 1.
They should continue to get bodies to and through Lundqvist. They might get whistled down if they make contact, but if it gets into the goalie's head, giving a bad power play two minutes to work with seems like a small price to pay for derailing New York's best player.
The Rangers have been taking every chance to get shots in on Malkin and Crosby. Why not return the favor? Nothing dirty or over the line, obviously. Just a continuation of what they did in Game 2 is all the Penguins need.
New York Rangers Key: Finishers Can't Keep Passing Up Shooting Opportunities
New York was shut out in Game 2 because its finishers continually passed on chances to shoot the puck. Nash in particular was an offender in this regard, passing on several opportunities to fire a shot on Fleury, opting instead for the cute passing play.
For a forward who's expected to score goals, that's unacceptable and will lead to a lost series for the Rangers. Nash hasn't scored a goal in nine playoff games but has taken a ton of shots. He needs to stay on that track instead of dishing to players who simply can't shoot as well as he can.
St. Louis only had one shot despite 3:36 minutes of power-play time in Game 2. He was acquired to score goals and to give the Rangers another dynamic option at forward, but he's been largely invisible through two games. He needs to stop thinking pass-first and check down to making the simple play by getting the puck on net.
Pittsburgh Penguins Key: Hit the Net
While the Rangers need to stop passing on grade-A chances, the Penguins can't continue to shoot their high-end opportunities into the boards. Kunitz in particular has struggled to get pucks on net, and you're only going to get so many breaks from inside the slot against a shot-blocking team like the Rangers.
Pittsburgh's offense has been OK overall, but the Penguins could really do some damage if they started to hit the net with more frequency. Forcing Lundqvist to make the save is never going to be a bad play, and missing the cage from 15 feet away while standing still just can't happen—at least not at such a high frequency.
Pittsburgh's second goal in Game 2 came off of a rebound. Perhaps the Penguins should make an adjustment and start shooting lower more often and see what comes back out to them.