Rangers vs. Penguins Game 5: Keys for Pittsburgh to Win
The New York Rangers had a chance to get back into their semifinal series against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 4. After outshooting Pittsburgh in Game 3 by a wide margin, New York had every reason to be confident. The Rangers lost a game they could have won, but that happens in the playoffs sometimes.
Odds were against Marc-Andre Fleury pitching a third consecutive shutout, and the Rangers needed a must-win game effort to even things out before the series went back to Pittsburgh.
They came out completely flat and played their worst game of the series. Now the Penguins have a chance to advance to the Eastern Conference Final for the second consecutive season, and all they need to do is mimic the performance they had in Game 4.
All statistics appear courtesy of NHL.com and are accurate through Game 4 of the series.
Don't Let Up
There's no two ways about it: The Rangers are on the mat right now. The team is discouraged after a terrible outing in Game 4, and star players seem to be spending more time hanging their heads than looking for solutions out on the ice.
It just didn't happen. I don't know why. Some nights it just doesn't go that way. I wish we all could figure that out at the time. Tonight it was more about us. [Pittsburgh] might have played unbelievably if we tested them. We didn't give them much of a test to see where they're at tonight.
The worst thing the Penguins could do would be to allow New York to gain some confidence. Another quick start is crucial in Game 5.
Continue to Pressure New York's Defense
Pittsburgh's first goal was a result of pressure on New York's players as they tried to move the puck up ice. Chris Kunitz forced Kevin Klein to make a pass quicker than he would have liked, and he missed his intended target.
That allowed the Penguins to pick the puck up in the neutral zone with speed and with a solid attack already heading into the offensive zone. Evgeni Malkin finished the play with an outstanding skill move, but it was all made possible by pressure around the puck and quickly counterattacking when mistakes were made.
The Rangers were "credited" with 25 giveaways in Game 4. Twenty-five times New York had the puck, and 25 times Pittsburgh was able to counterattack. The Penguins need to continue pressuring Ranger defenders as they make their outlet pass, and high pressure in the neutral zone is also a must.
Rick Nash, Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis can't score from 90 feet out, after all.
Rush the Rangers' Top-Six
New York's top players are gripping their sticks tightly right now. Nash hasn't scored in the 2013-14 playoffs, St. Louis hasn't registered a goal in eight games or a point in six and Richards hasn't found the back of the net since Game 3 of the first round.
The top Blueshirts aren't getting it done in the offensive zone, and they know it. So does head coach Alain Vigneault, who will, according to NHL.com, shuffle his lines ahead of Game 5. The poster boy for New York's offensive woes has been Nash, and Vigneault addressed that point with gathered media following Game 4:
"You know, we're putting him in situations where he's had success. He's getting great looks. We've just got to stick with him and, hopefully, he'll be able to come out of this funk."
The former captain of the Columbus Blue Jackets is quickly running out of time to turn his game around, and the Penguins should be hitting New York's top players every time they get the chance to do so. Yap at them. Play some head games.
Sixty minutes of hockey stands between the Penguins and the Eastern Conference Final. Pull out all the stops and throw as many checks as possible at the Rangers' top players.
Keep Crushing in the Faceoff Circle
Winning faceoffs is a key to success for every team, but for the Penguins, it's necessary. Their best forwards need to have the puck to work their magic, and Pittsburgh started with the biscuit more often than not in Game 4.
The Rangers were hammered in the faceoff circle, losing 31 of the 49 draws that occurred. That's a big positive for Pittsburgh's centers as the series shifts back to Pittsburgh. When a line loses a faceoff, it's forced to expend energy while trying to get the puck back.
This can neutralize skilled forwards like St. Louis and Nash, who are at their best when there is possession in the offensive zone. The opposite also holds true. If Sidney Crosby wins a faceoff, he's not chasing down the puck for the majority of his shift.
Winning draws at a high clip is just another way to bump New York's top guys off of their game.