Stanley Cup Final 2014: Rangers' Biggest Weaknesses and How Kings Can Capitalize
The Los Angeles Kings are going to have their hands full with the New York Rangers. A popular angle during the Western Conference Final was that the Kings and Chicago Blackhawks were playing for the Stanley Cup and New York didn't stand a chance against either squad.
That's off base, though. L.A. earned the right to play for the Cup by defeating the 'Hawks. They haven't won anything yet and they know it.
It's not going to be an easy series for the Blueshirts either. They have a few glaring weaknesses that they need to shore up if they want to take hockey's holy grail back to the Big Apple for the first time since 1994.
Likewise, the Kings can make this series more painless by attacking the following holes in the Rangers' armor.
Rangers Depend on Speed and Transition for Offense
The Kings have seen this before. In the third round, in fact. Like the Blackhawks, the Rangers prosper when they are allowed to gather speed through the neutral zone, and they thrive in transition.
This is something that Los Angeles can capitalize on.
Chicago never got away from the stretch passes against L.A., and the Kings were able to generate countless counter-punches as the series wore on.
When that long pass hits the mark, it sets up a quick transition from defense to offense. For the Rangers, the play allows their forwards to hit the offensive blue line with speed.
When it's foiled by an active defensive play, though, it generally ends up in an odd-man rush going the other way. The Kings were successful when they sat back and waited for the 'Hawks to make mistakes that led to turnovers, and they'll need to clog the neutral zone in a similar fashion against a hasty Rangers team.
Bleacher Report's Steve Macfarlane wrote about New York's speed against Los Angeles' size in his in-depth preview of the series:
These two teams, both backed by top-tier goaltenders in the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist and the Kings’ Jonathan Quick, will try to suck the other side into their style of game.
Physical, defensive and opportunistic favors the Kings.
Rapid transitions and back-and-forth swings favor the Rangers.
That sums it up perfectly, and the Kings will need to be as opportunistic against the Rangers as they were against Chicago.
New York Not Particularly Proficient in Faceoff Circle
If the Rangers are looking to play an uptempo game against the Kings—and they will be—then they'll need to puck on their stick more often than not.
A sure-fire way to possess the puck is to win a faceoff. That's something that the Rangers have struggled with so far during the postseason, and that benefits a Los Angeles squad that boasts four excellent centers.
Out of the 16 teams that made the playoffs, only four are ranked lower at the dot than the Rangers. Three of those four squads went home in the first round, while the Anaheim Ducks bowed out in the second. New York has won just 47.5 percent of its draws in the postseason.
That number wouldn't be so alarming if the Kings weren't so good in the circle. Only the Boston Bruins have a better faceoff percentage, as L.A. has started with the puck a whopping 52.9 percent of the time.
The difference between the two groups of centers will be a defining storyline of this series, and it starts with Los Angeles' ability to abuse the Rangers in the circle.
Henrik Lundqvist Sometimes Struggles with Lateral Movement
It'd be easy to make the case that Henrik Lundqvist has been the best player in the postseason to this point. He's had a rough outing or two, but his .928 save percentage is stellar.
That percentage is arguably the No. 1 reason that the Rangers have made it to the Stanley Cup Final, and King Henrik isn't likely to let up, as he has a chance to capture the top trophy in the sport for the first time.
While Lundqvist is good, he isn't unbeatable. The Swede plays deeper in his net than other netminders, and that approach opens up some opportunities for the Kings.
Deeper positioning allows Lundqvist to use his feet to beat passes with quick, short movements. But he can get sprawled out, and often ends up falling forward on moves across the middle of the ice down low or lateral passes in tight, leaving plenty of space if a shooter can hold on wide enough and elevate the puck. The same applies to breakaways, with a better chance for success coming from adding a a lateral element to the attack, whiches [sic] forces him to stretch out to maintain coverage.
To capitalize on this tendency, the Kings need to take the offensive zone with possession instead of firing from the outside off the rush each time up the ice.
Lundqvist is a patient goalie, and Los Angeles' shooters need to match that by forcing him to move and commit to shots early.
Rangers Have Struggled on the Power Play
The Rangers made headlines for a handful of bad reasons during the second round against the Pittsburgh Penguins—namely for their awful play on the man advantage.
At one juncture, they failed to score on 36 consecutive chances and the team was actually losing momentum every time it had a power play.
New York got it together before the end of the round and found the back of the net with the extra man three times in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final before slumping once again. The Blueshirts went 1-for-16 the rest of the way against the Montreal Canadiens.
This is all good news for the Kings, since they are the most penalized team in the postseason by a wide margin. According to ESPN.com, L.A. has racked up 272 penalty minutes during the playoffs and averages nearly 13 minutes of short-handed play per game.
If New York's power play were pumping home goals, that volume of penalty minutes would be a problem. However, the Rangers are only scoring on 13.6 percent of their power-play opportunities.
The Kings love to play a physical brand of hockey, and right now it doesn't look like the Rangers have the horses to make them pay for crossing the line from time to time.
Los Angeles can go right at the Rangers, playing them hard and rubbing them out whenever there is a chance to do so.
All statistics appear courtesy of NHL.com unless otherwise noted.