On Tuesday evening, the Rangers were eliminated from qualifying for the Stanley Cup playoffs. It was the third game in a row that New York was defeated by the Carolina Hurricanes– this time by the score of 4-1. The three-game sweep was enough to send the Blueshirts out of the bubble in Toronto, and on home to New York.
Actually, the Rangers played much better in the last game, but clearly Carolina was the better team in this series. Looking at the entire series, we can see where the Rangers have rebuilt and are on their way, and where they still have work to do. Let’s take a look at what went right and what went wrong.
What went right. The Rangers looked nothing like the team that left the ice on the night of March 11th. Except in net. Generally, Henrik Lundqvist and Igor Shesterkin did a good job between the pipes. They gave the team a chance to win; unfortunately, there was not enough offense to make up for giving up any goals at all. Shesterkin particularly made a spectacular save in Game 3 that has to make one think that had he been available all series, the Rangers might have snuck one win in.
Brendan Smith. Smith had an excellent series. Did he give the puck away a couple of times, yes? But that happens. With 16 hits in the three games and five blocked shots, he was noticeable, got his nose dirty, and was willing to go into the dirty areas to get the puck. Head Coach David Quinn kept increasing his ice time as the games went on and for good reason. Smith has played whatever role was asked of him throughout the last two seasons. Although his $4.5 mill/yr contract may have seemed excessive to some when it was first signed, he certainly has been worth the price.
What went wrong. This could wind up being a long laundry list of items, but let’s stick to the three biggest.
The lack of disciplined toughness. The Rangers are young (including Shesterkin, there were nine players who never were in the post-season before), so playoff hockey was new to them. Playing hard and tough is one thing, but you must do so within the limits of the rules. The Rangers were completely undisciplined in Game 1. As the series went along, they got better, but there were two problems. One, this lineup was not used to playing this type of hockey, and two, they were not built for this type of game. The Rangers are a speed, high talent team that does not have the personnel to open things up for their highly skilled players. Which is part of the reason that Artemi Panarin was so ineffective during this series. And why Vitali Kravtsov would not have been successful had he entered the lineup on Tuesday. More big body, effective two-way forwards are needed (hopefully Morgan Barron will be the beginning of this parade).
Face-offs. The bane of the Rangers existence. The team consistently lost face-offs or lost control after the face-offs. New York must improve their face-off percentage to win games. The worst offender is Filip Chytil, who has worked on his face-offs but has not significantly imporved that part of his game.
Defense. What to say about the defense? Let’s start with Adam Fox, who was in his first season and his partner on defense, Ryan Lindgren. Both are excellent young players, who need seasoning, but are part of the D core of the future. At age 31, Smith is still serviceable, but Jacob Trouba has had a down year and Marc Staal is definitely past his prime. As far as Tony DeAngelo goes, I know he had great numbers during the year, but if he cannot hit an outlet pass (which was generally the case during this series), his value drops enormously. Everyone knows that Tony gives something up on defense, but his offensive abilities are supposed to make up for it. They just did not in this series, and it is not clear that he will be anything near worth the money he will be asking for when he becomes an RFA this summer. In the meantime both K’Andre Miller and Libor Hájek are waiting in the wings and Matthew Robertson a little further on. And don’t forget LD Tarmo Reunanen and 2018 first rounder RD Nils Lundkvist, both of whom are still playing in Europe (Reunanen is signed to a Rangers ELC). There is plenty coming down the pike at the back end, it was just not here yet.
Where To Now? The fact that it was just not here yet is just the point. What needs to be in place is not quite here yet. At the start of the season, the Rangers were not expected to make the playoffs. They did not, but got a look at post-season play anyway. It was a good experience for them. Now, let’s look ahead. The Blueshirts still may be two years away from becoming real contenders for the Cup. That did not change, even though the Rangers got a chance to see what the post-season is like. This coming year’s draft will be critical in getting big bodies in place to compete in the post-season in the future. The Rangers surely know that and will draft accordingly.