— #StanleyCup Playoffs (@NHL) April 23, 2016
After being ousted by the Penguins, the understanding that the character of the New York Rangers is different, is now realized.
- New York Rangers 3 (1-4)
- Pittsburgh Penguins 6 (4-1)
- Game 5, Final, Box Score
- Consol Energy Center, Pittsburgh Penguins, PA
By Robby Sabo
As of late Saturday afternoon, the NHL team who’s played the most Stanley Cup Playoff games the last four seasons (76), is now on the outside looking in.
The club who’s played in two Eastern Conference Finals and one Stanley Cup Final since 2012, had zero answers come tournament time in 2016.
The New York Rangers are that team, and they were absolutely blown out of the building in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Divisional Semi-Final.
The score ended up as a lopsided 6-3. Basically, the game continued the trend of dominance by Sidney Crosby and his young speedy bunch. It continued the absolute thrashing these Rangers continuously took on the chin all series long.
Once the second period ended, and all the world knew Henrik Lundqvist wouldn’t start the third period after relenting a sixth goal late in the second, all of Rangerstown understood the situation.
This club, who has basically played an entire regular season campaign in the playoffs the last four seasons is simply not the same.
This Rangers team who used to stare death in the face and chuckle aloud, can no longer afford to do so.
They don’t have that same moxie; that same attitude to overcome such situations.
Nowhere on this roster is that more evident than on the back-end.
Players like Dan Girardi and Marc Staal are broken. No longer is Girardi the iron-man, the guy who can breeze through pain and provide unlimited, tough production in front of his world-class goalie. While he’ll occasionally show flashes of his defensive dominance from time to time, Staal’s lapses are plentiful in comparison to years past.
Then we come to Keith Yandle. Yands is a guy who would’ve flourished in the 1990s. His offensive production – 42 assists during the season in leading the team – would have been much more valuable during the days offensive defensemen shined. Those 42 would have been 62.
But alas, this is the year 2016, and the offensive defenseman in this league isn’t the same. Instead, d-men in this NHL are relied on to block shots, get dirty, and man their positions. Anything they provide by way of offensive ability is considered a bonus.
Yandle simply isn’t a good defender. If his -4 on the season tells you one thing, allow it to tell you just that: He’s not a good defender.
— #StanleyCup Playoffs (@NHL) April 23, 2016
A guy like Kevin Klein served as the Rangers fifth d-man in 2014. He’s now their best (while the captain stunk up the joint in coming back from injury).
Perhaps this is the reason this club has lost its heart and soul. A personnel grouping built and groomed with a tough, defensive aspect in mind by Glen Sather and John Tortorella, has now turned to a fancy-pants, transitional soft one by Alain Vigneault.
When first-year Rangers head coach Vigneault took that tough-minded personnel over in 2013, those Tortorella principles were still in place. So, in essence, the club benefited from the best of both worlds. It already had the defensive structure built-in, but was being taught transitional, free-flowing philosophies by AV.
The same example can be said for the 2015-16 Washington Capitals. The once offensive-minded club led by an irresponsible Alex Ovechkin has turned dirty (in a good way) under Barry Trotz.
Or how about the Pittsburgh Penguins? Rangers fans should be extraordinarily familiar with this example.
We always knew guys like Crosby and Evegni Malkin can score, but they could never quite defend. After a few down years while trying to figure it out, the organization turned to a defensive-minded guy in Mike Sullivan to run the show.
Sullivan, who was Tortorella’s right-hand man with the Rangers, was reported (in many circles) to actually be the main ingredient in the Sather-Tortorella break-up. The franchise wanted somebody else to be the special teams architect, and Torts wasn’t having any of it.
Fast-forward to today. Sullivan and another former Ranger in Carl Hagelin, blew the Rangers out of the water.
Of course age and wear and tear could be part of the problem as well. Like previously mentioned, this club played in an incredible 76 postseason games the last four seasons. Back-bone players like Ryan McDonagh, Girardi and Staal were all battling sever injuries last spring.
In some way, shape or form, the bottom was going to drop out eventually.
It’s also not strange that New York lost in the first-round. This team finished first in goals against in 2011-12, fourth in 2012-13, fourth in 2013-14, and third a season ago.
This year? How about finishing 15th in the league with a dirty mark of 2.62 allowed per game.
Defense wins in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
What’s strange is how they didn’t fight back – how little they wanted it.
That is what’s so alarming, especially considering this group is the only to ever come back from 3-1 series deficits in back-to-back seasons.
The familiar character, pride and guts this franchise put on the ice every spring tournament game was non-existent in this series. Instead of staring death in the face and laughing, this version of the New York Rangers stared death in the face and hugged it.
The question remains: Why?
That’s a question for a future date in time.