It was evident early in Game 1 that nerves had gotten the better of the New York Rangers. The Blueshirts succumbed to the Carolina Hurricanes’ physicality and speed, playing catch-up for the majority of the hockey game.
Certain aspects in every game define which team will be victorious, and which teams will bow their heads in defeat. During each contest, special teams, 5-on-5 play, board battles, and many others are crucial components of the final outcome.
In the first game of this series, the Rangers were completely outmatched by the Hurricanes, never really threatening to put a dent in Carolina’s lead. Three facets of the Rangers’ game were particularly lackluster, and adjustments to those three components will be key to a Game 2 victory.
Improve the Special Teams
It would be safe to say that the Rangers’ special teams play — both power play and penalty kill — were extraordinarily streaky over the course of 2019-20. Their power play finished seventh in the league at 22.9% while their penalty kill finished 23rd at 77.4%.
Game 1 saw both sides go a combined 1-for-14 on the man-advantage, with the Rangers at an abysmal 0-for-7. Despite a late shorthanded goal by Marc Staal the Rangers’ inability to convert on the man-advantage proved to be a fatal blow to their chances of grabbing a series lead.
After the game, Mika Zibanejad expressed his frustration to Greg Joyce of the New York Post, stating, “I feel like they outcompeted us, really.”
He also added:
We didn’t really click. I didn’t think we were able to get on the same page. We had some OK chances, but we couldn’t establish a good power play and get some momentum from it. We gotta watch some video, go through it and really bury down on Monday.
(from ‘Mika Zibanejad calls out Rangers’ brutal power play vs. Hurricanes’, NY Post, 8/1/2020)
The fate of a game is usually tied to the special teams’ battle, and if the Rangers want to even up the series, they must convert on their power plays Monday afternoon.
Rangers Must Win Faceoffs
New York struggled to take face-offs all season, ranking 30th in the NHL with a faceoff winning percentage of 46.6. That pattern held true to form during their 3-2 defeat, as the Blueshirts were outdueled on the draws, winning 46% compared to Carolina’s 54%.
Normally, the Rangers would take those statistics in the faceoff circles, but the amount of clean faceoffs that they lost, especially on the power play, really put them behind the eight-ball. It seemed as though New York spent the first 20 seconds of each power play chasing the puck back into their own end, preceding a struggle re-gain the zone again.
If we all think back to the Rangers’ epic overtime game-winner in Game 7 against the Washington Capitals in 2015, the play stemmed from a face-off win. If you watch the play closely, Derek Stepan ties up the center while Jesper Fast comes in and helps win the puck back to the point.
That type of effort, particularly on the draws, will make the Rangers more successful at generating offense, particularly on the man-advantage. In addition, the wingers stepping in to help win faceoffs will allow for easier zone exits, limiting the Hurricanes’ offensive opportunities.
Strengthening the Forecheck
The opening game of the series proved that Carolina wants to play a fast and chippy style, pinning the Rangers in their end for elongated periods. To counter this, New York must get in on the forecheck and crunch the Hurricanes’ defensemen, something they failed to do Saturday.
Throughout the first and third periods, the Rangers failed to generate extended shifts in the offensive end, allowing the Canes to freely skate the puck up the ice. It will be crucial in Game 2 for the Rangers to dump the puck deep into Carolina’s zone, pinning them there.
Establishing a forecheck, does not just help create offense, but it also helps to keep your opponent off of the board. The Rangers looked slow in Game 1 and lacked the necessary speed needed to compete with the Hurricanes.
On Monday, look for the Rangers to come out of the gate with more jump, shooting more pucks into the Hurricanes’ end and trying their best to lay the body on the opposing defense.
If New York institutes these necessary changes, they have a legitimate shot at evening up the series. However, if they fail to improve in Game 2, and have another slow start out of the gate, they will face the daunting task of having to overcome a 2-0 deficit in a best-of-five series.