The Rangers made it through the regular season by dominating teams at even strength. Their powerplay was nothing to write home about, and it was actually considered the biggest weakness in their game. But now, four games into the series with Ottawa, the Senators have managed to expose the Rangers at even strength. The last even strength goal: Brian Boyle’s goal in the third period of Game Three. The one before that? Boyle’s goal in the third period of Game Two.
For those keeping track, that’s two even strength goals in seven periods of hockey. That is not what made the Rangers the top seed in the Eastern Conference. They have a lead in even strength goals (7-6 thus far), but considering the weaknesses of the powerplay*, there needs to be a wider gap.
*-Statistically the Rangers powerplay isn’t awful this series, but it cost them Game Two. Timing is everything with powerplay goals.
The biggest offenders at even strength are the two guys that were signed to provide scoring for the Rangers: Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards. Both have just one even strength point (a goal a piece). Simply put: they need to be better at even strength.
The Senators aren’t exactly a defensive juggernaut, but they have managed to hold the Rangers to two goals or less in three of the first four games. Only Game One saw a successful Rangers attack at even strength. As Suit pointed out, the Senators aggressive hybrid trap has the Rangers running around in their own zone, and seemingly unable to get anything going on offense.
It isn’t just the goals either. The Rangers appear to be running around like a bunch of chickens with their heads cut off. The Senators have the puck way too much. You can’t score if the other team has the puck for the majority of the even strength game.
Perhaps they are missing Carl Hagelin, who was their best puck possession forward at even strength all season. He has the speed to keep up with the Senators as well. Missing Hagelin is part of the problem, but an even more alarming problem is that the Rangers seem to have no answer for Zenon Konopka, which is astounding to say the least. Konopka has been a whiz in the faceoff dot and has created havoc in front of Henrik Lundqvist. He and Chris Neil are the most dangerous Senators this series, which is scary considering Erik Karlsson and Jason Spezza haven’t really gotten going yet.
This is where coaching needs to play a part in the adjustments. The Senators adjusted to the Rangers attack after Game One. The Rangers have not adjusted to the Senators defense. They are going with “ole reliable”, which is no longer working for them.
The series isn’t over, and the Rangers have a clear advantage because they have Lundqvist and home ice advantage. But, I am as worried now as I was at the start of the series, but for completely different reasons. In the playoffs, a team needs to get better in each successive game. The Senators have gotten better, the Rangers have not. That is what scares me right now.