Right Wing Conspiracy is a weekly column about hockey, with the odd hockey-related conspiracy theory thrown in for good measure.
The New York Rangers, Three Games In
RWC is a day late this week, as I wanted to write about the Rangers after seeing their performance in Game Three of their playoff series against the Washington Capitals. After watching the Blueshirts slip past the Caps to secure a critical 4-3 win at Madison Square Garden last night (Washington leads the series, 2-1), I’m left with the following thoughts:
- Wwwwwhhhhheeeeeewwwwww. That was much too close for comfort. Ten more seconds on the clock, and Washington might very well have sent the game into overtime.
- The Rangers looked confident and in full control on only one shift – the shift in which Derek Stepan scored the game-winning goal. From the time the puck entered the offensive zone, the momentum shifted to the Rangers and quickly rose to a crescendo. Every once in a while, you just know what’s about to happen; so it was with Stepan’s goal.
- The other 59:30, however, New York looked nervous, uncomfortable. Too many players tried to do too much. Too many times, blue-on-blue collisions were narrowly avoided. Too many passes were either in skates or just out of reach. For too much of the game, the Rangers looked like every team did at the beginning of the season: disjointed, out of sync, harried. Though the Capitals can claim some credit for that, the majority of the Blueshirts’ problem lies between their own ears. Were I John Tortorella, my pep talk prior to Game Four would be short and sweet: “Guys, you’re not thinkers, you’re hockey players. So stop thinkin’ and just play hockey.”
- Full credit to New York, though: Despite their uneven, unconfident performance, they beat a loose, confident Capitals team. That in itself speaks volumes about the Rangers’ potential and causes the Blueshirt Faithful to wonder what these guys could do if they were healthy and confident.
- Speaking of health…the return of Marc Staal was a huge morale booster for the Rangers, even if his performance was about what you would expect from a guy who hasn’t played in two months and suddenly finds himself in a do-or-die playoff game. On the downside, Darroll Powe left the game with what can only be a concussion. His loss is a significant blow to New York’s penalty kill, which finally stopped the bleeding last night, limiting Washington to just one shot on goal in three power play attempts. As long as Powe is out, expect the PK pairings to be Hagelin-Boyle and Callahan-Stepan. If Ryane Clowe can go, he’ll take Powe’s spot in the lineup Wednesday; if not, Chris Kreider should suit up.
- Since coming over from Columbus at the trade deadline, Derick Brassard has been reborn. He looks like the kid who put up 10-15-25 in 31 games before losing the rest of his rookie season to a shoulder injury. I’ve followed the Blue Jackets closely since Brass was a rookie, and he’s now playing with more confidence and flash than at any time since 08-09.
- John Moore continues to impress, except when handling the puck behind his own net. His puck handling/decision making behind King Henrik hasn’t cost the Rangers yet, but if he continues to turn the puck over in those situations, it’s going to bite the Blueshirts eventually.
- The Rangers hit yet another post Monday night. This time, Brad Richards was the unlucky sniper. In a series in which two of three games have been decided by a single goal, this business of hitting the post, rather than the back of the net, is a real problem. It’s a statistical anomaly, sure…but in a seven game series, statistical anomalies can kill you.
- Monday’s Game Three win was do-or-die for the Rangers. They passed that test (barely), but face another do-or-die situation Wednesday night. If the Blueshirts can skate away with another W, they’ll head back to Washington with momentum in a tied series. If they take Game Five (and with it, a 3-2 series lead), I’m confident the Rangers will advance. Right now, however, New York needs a three-game win streak. They have one. A chance at two comes tomorrow night.