Starting tomorrow, the Caps play 33 games in 65 days. That is...
Four Questions for a Rangers Blogger
For the fourth time in five seasons, the Capitals will face the Rangers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. While both teams are familiar with each other, each year brings on a new set of questions. For insight on what to expect from the Rangers, we turned to Adam Herman, a contributor for the New York Rangers Blog and a friend of our site (he once lost a bet to us and had to write “Caps Fans ARE Louder, And Madison Square Garden IS Horrible” on his site).
Brian Boyle and Ryane Clowe missed the final game of the Rangers’ season against the Devils. If they can’t go for an extended period of time in this series, what does that do to the Rangers game plan and their dynamic, especially with Marc Staal on injured reserve?
Clearly, those are two guys who bring a lot of different things to the table. Boyle has actually missed the last few games and, although the Rangers have suffered in the faceoff circle and on the PK without him, not everyone is convinced there is a place for him in the lineup even when he returns to health. Clowe’s potential absence would hurt a lot more. He’s not the kind of player who will add points every game but he fits into the team identity well. He’s responsible defensively. He’s gritty, throws hits, and is an absolute force on the forecheck. And he’ll get a goal or assist every other game. I don’t think the Rangers make any tactical or philosophical adjustments, but certainly having both guys available would make playing an effective game easier.
The Rangers were picked by many pundits to win the Stanley Cup before the season started. As the season progressed, it seemed as though the Blueshirts wouldn’t even qualify for the postseason. Many fans (and even some members of the media) were calling for the firing of John Tortorella. If the Rangers lose this series, what does the future hold for Torts?
Even if some people don’t like it, John Tortorella is returning next season regardless of what happens. Last season was the best regular season the team has had since 1994, and the playoff run was the deepest since 1997. Tortorella is more than a coach. He has more influence on free agent signings and trades than most coaches in the NHL do, and he therefore has been a big reason for the Rangers getting away from the overpaid, big-name players and instead building from the ground up with hard workers. Though it would be ignorant to say that Tortorella has no fault in the early season struggles, they can be attributed more to an incomplete roster than coaching decisions. And that is supported by the fact that the team went 9-3-1 after the trading deadline, when they got rid of the dead weight and brought in better fitting players. But regardless, almost any head coach who leads the team to the successful season that the Rangers had last season will get the benefit of the doubt. If the Rangers are underachieving halfway through next season then it will become a discussion worth having, but for now his job is safe.
Henrik Lundqvist has put up another solid season between the pipes, amassing a 2.05 GAA to go along with a .926 SV%. The one question mark about him in the postseason has been endurance due to the fact that Torts likes to give Lundqvist a lopsided amount of starts. This year, he has started in 43 of the Rangers 48 games. How much of a factor will that be in this series?
In an ideal world, Lundqvist gets a few more breaks than he was afforded. And Tortorella made that happen last season. Unfortunately, the battle for playoff positioning this time around didn’t allow it. That being said, he essentially got the first half of the year off, as he didn’t play anywhere during the lockout, and Hank is as durable as just about any goaltender in the world. And he gets a bit of an extended rest since the series does not start until Thursday. Is it concerning? A little bit. I think you can go down the roster of every team and point out concerns here and there for majority of players. Hank should be ready to go and I don’t see it being a tangible issue.
What kind of impact has Mats Zuccarello had on the lineup since his return?
The Mats Zuccarello the Rangers brought in this season is completely different from the one who left the team at the end of last season. He’s added a physical component to his game, as he now will forecheck and battle for pucks in front of the net. He’s more consistent offensively. In his first few seasons he tended to over-think plays or try to do too much. Now he’s letting the play come to him. Brad Richards recently compared him to his former teammate, Martin St. Louis; clearly high praise. I don’t think he’ll ever reach St. Louis’ level of production, but the comparison is apt. The reality of the NHL is that, if you aren’t a 35-40 goal scorer, then you HAVE to make yourself useful in other aspects of the game. Zuccarello is finally doing that and will hopefully build on his regular season performance in the playoffs.