I thought I was going to have time to write this, but a few unexpected events at work later and I’m trying to piece this on my phone over a few commutes. Clearly, this is a HAV.
Last time I started with the forwards and defense, but I thought I should start this time between the pipes. Henrik Lundqvist was phenomenal in the first round. All of the “ifs” were emphatically answered in his favor. Sure, there were one or two goals he would want to have back, and he oddly had issues holding onto his stick, especially in games 2-4, but he was simply brilliant.
Future Masterton Award winner Craig Anderson has been a sneaky great goaltender in the NHL over the past four seasons, a lot of which was overshadowed by bad teams in front of him. He’s also traditionally done well against the Rangers. Finally, while his numbers ended up nice and shiny against Boston in the last round, a lot of the credit has to go to the lack of quality opportunities for Boston.
Ottawa has the best skater in this series in Erik Karlsson, and frankly, it’s not even close. The man is a wizard, and quite possibly my favorite player in the NHL to watch play aside from Connor McDavid. And he did all of that with two hairline fractures in his heel, which are supposedly close to being healed (no pun intended). I changed my pick of Ottawa to Boston based solely on Karlsson’s injury struggle heading into the playoffs.
The rest of Ottawa’s top four is also formidable, as Dion Phaneuf fits very nicely as a second pairing defenseman. Basically, he is to Ottawa what Marc Staal used to be for the Rangers a couple of years ago, except with a lot more baggage because of his contract and time in Toronto. Marc Methot and Cody Ceci round out a very solid top four. Ottawa’s third pairing leaves much to be desired. Hard nosed hitting and penalty machine Matt Borowiecki was injured against Boston and there has been a rotation of Ben Harpur, Chris Wideman, and Fredrick Claesson. Expect Harpur and
WidemanClaesson to be the third pair.
For the Rangers, it was a physical series and the coming out party for trade deadline acquisition Brendan Smith, who had a very gutsy and effective performance in the first round. All of the Rangers defensemen had periods of up and down play, but over the course of the series, five of the defensemen turned in great series. I am probably in the minority when I say Brady Skjei was the second best defenseman over the course of the series, behind captain Ryan McDonagh. I thought his ability to move the puck and quickly get it out of the zone was vital in preventing Montreal from establishing zone time when Montreal tried to surge. Dan Girardi had his best stretch of play in years and was a physical presence, although his positioning and play with the puck still left much to be desired. Marc Staal improved with each game in the series. However, Staal’s defensive partner, Nick Holden, struggled mightily.
While the Rangers 2-6 are definitely deeper than Ottawa (especially beyond the top 4), Erik Karlsson is such a difference maker, it can’t be ignored.
While the finish wasn’t there as often as you would like for our boys, they did still manage to score a decent amount against Vezina Trophy finalist (and former winner and league MVP) Carey Price What a series for Rick Nash. They definitely were too fancy or not engaged enough at times, but eventually put in the work and got the job done. Some forwards still have much more to show, in particular Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan, JT Miller, and Kevin Hayes. Rookies Pavel Buchnevich and Jimmy Vesey were both excellent, especially Vesey (monster jr.) Finally, the fourth line was tremendous. Oscar Lindberg is playing the best hockey of his career, even if the points don’t match the quality of play.
Ottawa has some big time goal scorers in Mike Hoffman and a red hot Bobby Ryan. They also have a great two-way player in Mark Stone, a personal favorite of mine. They are strong down the middle, with Kyle Turris and Big Game Derick Brassard. Their forward depth isn’t impressive, unless you are scared of JG Pageau and Ryan Dzingel. (Now that I’ve said that, expect both to have monster series). That all being said, only Ryan and Brassard had big series for Ottawa up front.
Ottawa’s power play is humming right now at 21.7% in the first round. Meanwhile, the Rangers nearly went 0 for the series against Montreal, finally scoring in game 6 for a cool 6.7%. Meanwhile, the Rangers’ penalty kill, which struggled mightily down the stretch, rebounded well against Montreal to the tune of 85%, along with a short handed goal. Ottawa’s penalty kill is also operating at an acceptable 81.3%.
The PKs being about equal, the difference in PP efficiency gives Ottawa the edge.
I don’t think much of Guy Boucher as a coach. His system can take a bad team and make it a little bit better, but will never produce a great team.
Matter receiving criticism of having been out coached in the playoffs (Sutter 2014, Cooper 2015, Sullivan 2016), AV coached to near perfection against Montreal. Huge advantage here for the Rangers.
The Rangers are a battle-tested group of hardened veterans. Even most of the kids are veterans. They will need to draw upon that experience in order to be willing to do what is necessary to beat Ottawa’s hard trap. If the Rangers try and play fancy boy hockey all series long, it won’t be a long series.
Also, I covered this earlier, but it bears repeating just how dynamic Karlsson is. The prevailing idea is that the Rangers will have to play some dump and chase, likely to Karlsson’s corner. Kreider’s speed and size will have to be utilized to its fullest potential. We need to be the team setting the tone and dictating the pace. If we play into the trap, it will be a short series. I expect them to make the necessary adjustments.
Prediction: Rangers in five. My confidence means that Ottawa almost certainly wins the series.