Every once in a while, you see something that needs to be addressed, in good times and bad times. Right now, is one of those bad times. My criticism is directed at the New York Rangers’ power play. Not individual units, not even the players themselves. No, my angst is directed at the system itself. So far, the Rangers are three for 37, in the post season, after Game Two against the Pittsburgh Penguins. That is an 8.1% conversion rate with the man-advantage. After scoring three power play goals in their first eight opportunities against the Philadelphia Flyers in round one, the power play units have been rendered “power-less.” There is no confidence, no teamwork, and no structure to their play. In Game Two against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Rangers were given opportunities early in the game. However, their failure to convert on those opportunities is upsetting as a fan. You can even go so far as say embarrassing. Let’s take a look at the power plays from last night and see what happened.
In the 1st period, the Penguins gave the Rangers three opportunities, in less than eight minutes. As a fan, these were like gifts from the hockey gods. Early penalties on the opponent’s ice, you would think this was our night. Hold everything; nothing is that easy if your team is the Rangers. The first power play was abysmal. I tried to observe what the Rangers were doing. Final answer, I had no idea what they were doing. It seemed from the start of the 2:00 advantage, nothing clicked. Watching the debacle unfold on my tv, I saw a team do nothing in the first 1:50. There was no sustained pressure, no crisp passing, and they could not keep the puck in the offensive zone. The first shot on goal for the power play came from Marc Staal, and that was with 10 seconds left in the Penguins’ penalty. The end result for their efforts, or lack there of, was zero goals.
The second power play opportunity looked better. They were able to penetrate the zone and setup their attacks. They controlled the puck and held onto it in the first minute. This time it appeared the puck was finding their way to the Rangers stick for second chances, something that had been lacking in their first power play. However, there was not much of a presence in front of Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who finished the game stopping all 22 shots attempted and shutting out the Blueshirts. How can you create scoring opportunities off rebounds if there is no one in front deflect or pickup loose pucks? On this 2:00 advantage, Derek Stepan appeared to have the best chance to score. However, he shot the puck high missing the net completely. The end result for their efforts was zero goals, again.
The third power play of the period resulted from a boarding penalty on Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin. The sequence of plays during this opportunity is just mind-boggling. Instead of building on their previous opportunities with the second power play and remembering what worked, they abandoned the efforts and reverted back to their old habits. There was lots of puck movement, which is good. To be deceptive, you do have to move the puck so it makes hard for the defense to track. However, instead of shooting the puck, the Rangers held onto it. It’s like Scott Arniel, the coach most responsible for the Rangers’ power play system, instructed the players to pass at least three times at the top of the zone. It reminds me of the movie Hoosiers starring Gene Hackman. In the movie, he plays a coach who takes an over a poorly run Indiana high school basketball team. One of the first things he preaches to his players is to pass the ball three times. Once that’s done, then the players can decide what to do. It appears this is the mentality of the power play. The team appears to be looking for that one perfect play. Which bring me to my next point, the passes are mostly to the outside. Nothing is inside, down low near the goal. It’s all kept away from the defense. Well, when you consistently take that approach, opponents will catch onto what you are doing. As we saw, the Penguins’ defense was not afraid to play up on the Rangers back line. Thus, they had confidence the puck was never going low and could play aggressively. To nobody’s surprise, no goals were deserved from that showing.
There was a fourth power play awarded to the Rangers, in the 2nd period. But well, you guessed it, no goals. However, they did appear to have learned from their earlier debacles. They were able to get shots on goal and rebounds were there for the picking. The best scoring chance was from Derick Brassard, who had a open net to shoot at. However, he missed the net and so went the advantage.
After breaking down the Rangers’ power plays from Game Two, there are some common themes that need to be addressed. They look for the perfect play, and in the process, over pass the puck. Instead of wasting time playing hot potato, the Rangers need to put the puck on net, make Fleury work. Also, the team needs to mix up their looks, make the defense guess what the offense is going to do. As the old saying goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again hoping for a different result. It’s not just going to happen like that. For example, play dump and chance on the first rush, then have the puck carrier carry deep into the offensive zone the next time. This includes the stretch passes. I understand it works on breakaways when the offensive man can get behind the opponent’s defense. But this is not going to work when the defense clutters the blue line to the neutral zone, preventing anyone from getting past them.
For this series, the Rangers need every advantage they can get against Pittsburgh. Fortunately, they have not made the Rangers pay on special teams. Last night, the Penguins scored the first power play goal for either team in this series. However, they are too good of a team to let opportunities slip them by. That is why the Rangers need to unclog whatever it is that is ailing them on the power play. If you want to put pressure on the Penguins, then you need to capitalize on the gifts given.