By: Anthony Russo
The New York Rangers, for the 11th time in the last 12 seasons, will head to the playoffs to face the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the 2017 playoffs. Are the Canadiens an ideal matchup for the Rangers? Or are they at a disadvantage?
Well in 2014, the last time the Rangers met the Canadiens in a playoff series, it ended with much controversy and they won in 6 games. For example: Rangers forward Chris Kreider collided into Carey Price and ended his season. Even after the replays clearly showed Canadiens defensemen Alexei Emelin tripping Kreider, causing the collision, Kreider still became a villain to Canadiens’ fans.
Which then led to Canadiens forward Brandon Prust to commenting on the Kreider incident by referring to Kreider’s contact with Price as “accidently on purpose.” Prust would then, in game 3 when his team fell behind 2-0 in the series, cause a break in Rangers center Derek Stepan’s jaw from a high late hit, in which the NHL took action and suspended Prust for 2 games.
Assuming Price and Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist stay healthy for the entirety of the series, the series could be a goaltenders duel. Although Lundqvist has had a down season, statistically, with his save percentage below .915, him along with Price, based on career consistency in the NHL, are arguably the two best goaltenders in the world.
Most of Lundqvist’s struggles this year has to do with the team in front of him and how much of a porous job they’ve done defending in front of him. The Rangers’ issues this year have been due to lack of controlling the puck. As according to naturalstattrick.com, the Rangers are ranked the 26th out of 30 teams Corsi for percentage, (CF%) which determines team’s possession stats by shot attempts at even strength.
Much of the time spent in their own end has do with their veteran defenseman, but Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault refuses to hold them accountable. As defensemen Dan Girardi and Marc Staal have been two of the Rangers’ worst defensemen in CF%. When Girardi is on the ice he has CF% of 44.34 and when Marc Staal is on the ice he has a CF% of 46.75. Meanwhile both players combine for annual cap that hits over $11 million on multiyear deals.
While Staal and Girardi don’t deserve all the blame, Vigneault deserves some criticism for the defensive pairings he puts together on a nightly basis. Vigneault has struggled to find a consistent defensive pairing all season, but continues to go back to giving Girardi top minutes with the team’s best defenseman and captain, Ryan McDonagh.
McDonagh and Girardi have been a pairing that Vigneault has relied upon throughout his tenure with the Rangers. But within the last couple of years the pairing has struggled and has been way too much of a liability. This year, the Girardi and McDonagh pairing are still at an abysmal CF% of 43.79, as they’ve spent a total of 761:27 minutes of time on the ice when paired together.
The Girardi and McDonagh pairing was once a reliable pairing that even helped lead the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2014, but that’s in the past and Vigneault needs to make an adjustment or the Rangers are in trouble. The Canadiens are also a strong possession team, as they are ranked 3rd in the NHL in CF%, which could cause problems for the Rangers in a best of 7 series.
The Rangers will have a chance to beat the Canadiens because of one, Lundqvist, and two, their depth at forward. Depending upon how much offense the Rangers could sustain from their forwards could mean the difference in the series, but the Rangers are going to have to figure out a way to stop allowing so many shot attempts in their defensive zone.