Rangers vs. Canadians Playoff Preview
This Wednesday night the NHL Playoffs will begin with our beloved Blueshirts heading to Montreal to square off against the Canadians. The season series between the two teams wasn’t pretty, with Montreal winning all 3 games. The one game the Rangers played very well in, they lost in a shootout. Analyzing this series is not easy. There are a number of mitigating circumstances when you dissect the match-ups.
For starters, the Rangers have the best road record in the NHL. However, they do not play well in the Bell Center and Henrik Lundqvist traditionally does not play well in Montreal. But, in 2014 he was superb in grabbing games 1 and 2 on the road, in the conference semi-finals. Lundqvist and back-up Cam Talbot were both strafed in game 5, but Hank came back to blank the Habs at MSG to punch the Rangers ticket to the 2014 finals. So, there is some contradiction when breaking down this series.
This is a big edge to the Rangers. This season the Rangers were one of the highest scoring teams in the league. They boast a ton of depth, with all four lines having skill on both sides of the puck.
The Canadians struggled offensively all season, and were a middle of the road team offensively. They are led by captain, Max Pacioretty, center Alex Galchenyuk, and right wing Alex Radulov. While these 3 players are very skilled, none are known for their defensive chops. In fact, Radulov has long been known as a liability in that regard. The problem is behind these 3 players, the offense really dries up. If the Rangers are going to when this series their forwards have to outplay the Canadians forwards by a wide margin. They are quite capable of that task, but their can be no wall flowers.
Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, and Mats Zuccarello cannot be invisible. All three have had some bad playoffs in recent years. Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, and J.T. Miller all have had coming of age breakout years for New York. All must be physical, and generate offense. Montreal got bigger and nastier at the trade deadline in acquiring Steve Ott, Dwight King, and Andreas Martinsen. With Andrew Shaw, these players all have a mean edge and can cross the line from mean to downright dirty. How many will dress nightly remains to be seen.
My gut and my head tell me that Tanner Glass will start the series as the left wing with Oscar Lindberg and Jesper Fast. While some may hate that idea, there are some good reasons to go that route. Glass is very robust and ferocious in finishing his checks. He could pound a few Canadian defensemen and potentially knock one out of the series. Glass is also a stout defensive player. I am not going to quote a bunch of defensive analytic numbers on that. Glass is where he is supposed to be in the defensive zone, and gets the puck out. In games against the Rangers this year Shaw and Ott have tried to intimidate the Rangers. Guys like Glass and deadline acquisition Brendan Smith will keep them honest.
This position is a lot less cut and dry. I am going to assume Ryan McDonagh and Canadians top defenseman, Shea Weber, aren’t very injured at all. I can’t make the same assumption about Montreal’s Jordie Benn and Alex Emelin. If they are without either or both, their depth will be compromised to a large degree. Weber is still great. Nathan Beaulieu has been up and down. Jeff Petry and Andrei Markov are both better offensively than in the the defensive zone.
While the Rangers McDonagh and Brady Skjei have been great, the same cannot be said about anyone else. Nick Holden and Marc Staal were a very good tandem for 2/3 of the season, both of their play dropped quite a bit. Kevin Klein had his worst season by far. Dan Girardi has been much better than last year, but is a bottom 3 defenseman at this point in his career. The sixth defenseman will be a competition nightly between Klein and Brendan Smith, whose game has been mediocre at best since coming from Detroit.
If the aforementioned players from the Canadians were healthy, I would give a slight edge to them. Since it appears they may not play, or play injured, i would call this one as even.
Habs goaltender Carey Price has been very good against the Rangers in his career. Henrik Lundqvist has been more bad than good against the Canadians. Both played in the World Cup of Hockey before the season, and both had rocky times in season. Since the Canadians fired Michel Therian, Price has been really sharp. His save percentage has at even strength has gone up from .934 to 944. While short-handed his save percentage went from a brutal .852 to a lofty .929. Once coming back from a late season hip injury suffered in an outstanding effort in Florida, Lundqvist has gotten better each game. He will need to be in the same form as he was in the series between these two teams in 2014. The defense in front of him is not the keystone cop edition of last year, but it is still mistake prone. Cutting down on those mistakes would help Henrik and the Rangers immensely. I give Montreal an edge here.
Both teams’ power plays arent great. Considering the Rangers abundance of skill up front, their power play has underachieved. The Canadians power play is led by their howitzer shooting defensemen in Weber and Markov. The bad news for the Rangers is their penalty kill struggled. And, they especially did not do a good job defending point shots. Frequently, Rangers defensemen screen and deflect shots by their goaltenders. Montreal was the better team killing penalties. They really got stingy under Julien in this department.
On paper, the Rangers are clearly better. But paper doesn’t take into account intangibles like the Rangers shaky history in Montreal. And, really, it is an awful history there, except for winning those 2 games in the 2014 semi-finals. Those were 2 huge games on a huge stage. I believe the Rangers forwards will step up, led by Miller, Hayes, Grabner, Kreider and Nash. I think the series goes 6 or 7 games and the Rangers prevail.