By: Cullen Raidna
After winning the President’s Trophy this season it was obvious that the New York Rangers would be one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup this June. While they handled a very much depleted Pittsburgh Penguins team in the first round, they proceeded to defeat the Washington Capitals in seven games, and now find themselves down two games to one in the Eastern Conference finals to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The question everyone wants answered is: Are the Rangers still a favorite? They have the defense and the goaltending to do it but can they? My answer is simple: no, and here is why.
We all know the saying: “Offense wins games but defense wins championships,” In a year that offense has been down, finding a way to put the puck in the net has become something that teams have to try a little harder at. Yes, the Rangers defensive core is one the best, or perhaps the best in league. In fact, in this year’s playoffs the Rangers rank fourth in Goals against per game at 2.20. The problem the Rangers have is offense. They come in tenth out of 16 teams that make the playoffs in goals per game at a 2.20. The top four teams in this category? Three of the four are still contending for the Cup: Anaheim at a staggering 3.73, Chicago at 3.00 and their current opponent, Tampa Bay, at 2.94. While all of these teams rank below New York in goals against per game, the difference lies in the offensive fire power that each of these teams possesses. The Rangers have just two players that have double digit points this post season. Tampa Bay has four players in the top ten, including playoff points and goals leader Tyler Johnson, with 18 points and twelve goals, not to mention his hat trick in game two of this series. Among the two Western Conference teams, Anaheim has two players in the top ten, and Chicago has two and has one outside the top ten with eleven points. Last series they went up against NHL regular season goals champion Alex Ovechkin, and assists leader Nicklas Backtrom. While the Rangers held these two in check, the problem still remains to be their offense. While the Rangers won the series, they were out-scored by Washington 11-10. In just three games this series the Rangers are being out-scored by a staggering 13-9. Even in the Pittsburgh series, while outscoring the Penguins 11-8, the Rangers struggled offensively. Yes their defense is phenomenal, as well as their goaltending but, plain and simple, if you cannot score you are not going to win hockey games.
The Rangers special teams numbers are not all that great either. They hold a very low penalty kill percentage at 80%, while Tampa Bay owns the fifth best power play at 22.6%. The Rangers also hold an average power play percentage at 20.4%. Both the Penguins and Capitals sit in the top five penalty killing teams in the playoffs this year. Even Tampa Bay holds a better penalty kill than the Rangers, at an 82.1%. A big contributor to this problem is their super star Rick Nash. Nash has just two goals in 15 games this post season. He has zero points on the power play and only seven points overall. Not exactly the production the Rangers were looking for after his 42 goals during the regular season, six of which came on the man advantage. Another issue has also been the play Martin St. Louis. The veteran has only six assists this post season. In the 2003-2004 Stanley Cup run with the Lightning Marty had 24 points in 23 games. In 2006 despite only playing five games he still managed to score four goals. His measly six points in 15 games this post season is not the production the Rangers need from a guy who has 89 points in 103 career playoff games.
One thing that has been proven this season is that if your big time scorers are not producing, you are not going to win games. The Pittsburgh Penguins struggled down the stretch because Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were not producing like they should be. Tampa Bay was able to knock off a Montréal team with world class goaltender Carey Price because their big producers in Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, and Steven Stamkos where not held off the score sheet consistently. This continues to be the case as Kucherov and Johnson are off to phenomenal starts this series. Unless the Rangers can find a way to produce more offense, and get production from Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis, they can kiss their Cup dreams goodbye.