After complete domination at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens, the true 2016-17 New York Rangers have shown face: soft and defenseless.It’s almost as if Claude Julien found something during the second intermission of game two that is completely irreversible in the world of Alain Vigneault.
You know the story. The New York Rangers were a mere 17 seconds away from taking a 2-0 series lead by capturing those first two on the road. It didn’t happen. What’s worse is the following four periods since that Tomas Plekanec equalizer, the Montreal Canadiens have completely dominated the Rangers.
Forget domination, it’s been a complete hockey embarrassment.
Every rush, every shift has seen the Blueshirts on their heels. There has been no sustaining offensive pressure, no forechecking and, most importantly, no defensive structure that has allowed the club to transition to an offensive attack.
Honestly, though, should anybody be surprised by this?
Think about personnel meetings between AV and general manager Jeff Gorton. What’s discussed? What goes on behind the scenes? Judging the typical Vigneault lineup, talent by way of offensive skill is usually the top priority.
Just take one glance at the opening night lineup:
The lineups for this opening night game at Madison Square Garden …#NYR #Isles pic.twitter.com/7EckYx8iTM
— Elite Sports NY (@EliteSportsNY) October 13, 2016
Without apology, we called this lineup “soft.” Look at the 12 forwards. One through 12, there wasn’t an ounce of physical presence among the bunch. Even worse, there wasn’t that prototypical fourth-line defensive-minded center. Kevin Hayes, a guy who really has no business in this area, was suddenly thrust into a penalty kill role.
Instead of looking at the 82-game regular season, we looked at the real season, the one that truly separates the men from the boys, the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Granted, this lineup flew out of the gate. During the first month of the season, the Rangers were, by far, the highest scoring team in the NHL. They skated blistering fast through the neutral zone and played AV’s transitional game to perfection while tallying over four goals a game.
Here’s where the rub comes …
The league figured them out. They realized that if they could clog the neutral zone and take advantage of New York’s poor defensive coverage in their own zone (which accounts for all five men, not just the two defensemen), opponents could easily outmuscle the team in blue.
This series has taken on the same pace.
New York flew out to a great start. In game one, with Henrik Lundqvist playing out of his mind, the offense did the rest en route to a victory. In fact, the Rangers even matched the Habs physicality from the outset. Most Rangers opponents look to come out physical. This isn’t a coincidence, thanks to the team’s softness from one through 18.
Since that rough and tough start the Rangers matched, things have turned drastically.
These New York Rangers simply cannot keep up if they look to play that physical style of play. What’s worse is if they try to play their fast-paced AV transitional game, the rules and rigors of the Stanley Cup Playoffs stop them cold in their tracks. Penalties are rarely called and, many might argue, the playoffs become a “no-holds-barred” version of regular hockey.
How often have you seen Rangers forwards crowding Carey Price? Rarely. How often have you seen Brendan Gallagher and Andrew Shaw run through Henrik Lundqvist? Often.
Even with Tanner Glass and Brendan Smith in the lineup, this roster simply doesn’t possess the grit and determination a cup winner needs.
God bless Mats Zuccarello. He may be the heart and soul of the team. His pesky nature and annoying ways become a great positive for his club. Even still, he’s not enough to get a squad over that hump during the physical playoffs.
The Montreal Canadiens couldn’t dream of touching the talent and skill level possessed by the New York Rangers. Anybody who tries to argue this point is simply ignorant.
What the Habs lack in overall skill, however, they make up for with playoff-like stature. They showcase the better playoff players and playoff system. If Alain Vigneault is Mike D’Antoni, then Claude Julien is a JV version of Gregg Popovich. His trap system and focus on physicality and defense will knock out the finesse game in the tournament every seven-game series.
What the Rangers had going for them during the spring of 2014 is that AV’s offensive principles beautifully blended with John Tortorella’s tried and tested defensive personnel. The further we move away from that, the less success this group will find each spring.
Where’s the Rangers Gallagher or Shaw? Where’s their Milan Lucic or dare I say Brad Marchand? Where’s their guy who loves to get down and dirty in the physical areas of the ice (mainly skating over the opposiing goaltender)?
They don’t possess that guy. They also have just one defenseman who does an ample job of protecting Lundqvist (Brendan Smith).
We can’t be surprised if the Rangers lose this thing in five. They’re simply not built for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They’re soft and can’t defend at a championship-caliber level.