Punchless Blueshirts Limp Back to Broadway in Jeopardy of an Early Playoff Exit
A season-long problem for the offensively out-of-sync New York Rangers has now placed them on the precipice of an abrupt end to a season once steeped in optimism and visions of Lord Stanley making its way down the Canyon of Heroes.
After Saturday Afternoon's exciting albeit crushing 1-0 OT defeat at the hands of the star-studded Washington Capitals, the Rangers have now mustered a grand total of 1 goal through 6 1/2 periods, the lone tally ricocheting off the skate blade of an unlucky Capitals Defensemen way back in the 1st period of Game 1.
The Rangers' Power Play, seemingly mired in a decade long slump, could in fact lead to their hasty retreat to the golf course. This problem is only exacerbated by the fact that the Caps happen to have the best Power Play Unit in all of hockey, spearheaded by Alexander Ovechkin, who leaves the ice during the man advantage about as often as Cal Ripken took a day off.
But Special Teams mismatches aside, the Rangers have had problems generating and sustaining even strength offense as well, leaving young Capitals Net-minder Braden Holtby to causally chalk up his first career shutout as a proverbial walk in the park. Of course Mr. Holtby's park is keenly outfitted with a few well-placed goalposts. Although the vast majority of the Rangers' offensive ineptitude has been placed squarely on the broad shoulders of Rick Nash, true followers of the sport realize that the Rangers are about 1/16" on an inch away from coming back to Manhattan knotted at 1-1 after #61 rapped one off the inner goalpost in the waning moments of regulation in Game 2. However those same true followers also realize that teams who aspire to win the Cup can overcome the occasional goalpost with consistent offensive play, the type of play that matches the effort put forth by the reigning Vezina Trophy Winner Henrik Lundqvist, who was his usual stellar self on Saturday Afternoon.
Expect the Rangers to return home with guns blazing in front of their intensely loyal Madison Square Garden fan base. Late season acquisition Ryane Clowe's possible return to the lineup could in fact galvanize and reinvigorate a hockey team that appears to be lacking in physical presence and grit. But for the Rangers to take the next 4 out of 5 from the streaking Capitals, Coach John Tortorella might have to play it counter to his incessant reliance on proven albeit underachieving veterans and suit-up a Chris Kreider, precisely the type of sniper who could assist their ailing power play. The 22 year old Kreider, whose 5 post-season goals in last year's playoffs gave New York an unexpected boost, should once and for all be paired with other offensively gifted players such as Ryan Callahan, Derek Stephan and/or Rick Nash so that his skills can be fully exploited. Burying him on the 4th line with the Blue Collar Blueshirts has been and would continue to be fruitless.
Of course the fact remains that this team needs more than an injection of offense from a young and still largely unproven blue-chip talent if they are to escape the Quarterfinals. Secondary scoring from the likes of Derick Brassard and Carl Hagelin were what catapulted the Rangers above the Eastern Conference Logjam and into the Playoffs while many of the star players suffered through uneven campaigns or took a while to find their way. But on the topic of stars, if Brad Richards, Nash, Stepan and even Callahan do not bring their A-Games to the pond and the Ranger Defensemen do not continue to do an admittedly solid job on Ovechkin and Company, it will be the Capitals who move on to Round 2 while the Rangers are left to ponder what happened to a season that once held such great potential.