The Rangers’ once-deadly power play is suddenly pushed to the limit

RALEIGH, NC — The power play is the source of the Rangers’ offensive identity. That’s true in good times and that’s true in bad times.

Game 2 of their second-round playoff series against the Hurricanes on Friday night, a 2-0 loss, is considered one of the bad times. That’s because the Blueshirts had their chance late in the second period after a goalless struggle. Let’s assume they had their chance. Well, actually not that either.

After failing to gain a two-man advantage against an aggressive Carolina penalty in the first half, the Blueshirts were awarded a four-minute power play when Brady Skjei drew Alexis Lafreniere’s blood on a tall stick.

So here came the marquee unit.

And the game started.

Because it wasn’t so much that Rangers didn’t score, and it wasn’t even so much that when the score was 15:54 of the second half they conceded a 2-on-1 shorthanded goal to Brendan Smith of all people, fed by Sebastien Aho, for a 1-0 Carolina lead.

Come to think of it, that was pretty important considering Rangers’ goalless aggregate streak in that series was 116-05 after that empty-net loss that sent the series with the good into the Garden for Game 3 on Sunday afternoon Boys in a familiar two game hole.

Artemi Panarin reacts during Rangers' Game 2 loss to the Hurricanes.
Artemi Panarin reacts during Rangers’ Game 2 loss to the Hurricanes.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Regardless of marquee power on any power play, the ability to outperform the opposing penalty unit is paramount. It’s about the ability to position yourself forward and bring your body inward. It’s about the ability to retrieve pucks and keep sequences alive.

The Rangers couldn’t do that in this case. Not only did they go 0-4 in 7:38, but the dreaded powerplay unit was only able to generate three tries and two shots on Antti Raanta. The Blueshirts were under constant stress while being forced to go back and start over multiple times. According to the Natural Stat trick, they didn’t generate a single power play scoring opportunity.

This was reminiscent of Game 3 of Round 1 in Pittsburgh, when Rangers, after a 4-4 draw from a 4-1 deficit, fell on three power plays bridging the second and third periods before losing 7-4.

Then, as now, the Blueshirts’ greatest strength has become a weakness at the worst possible time.

“I see a great penalty that puts a lot of pressure on them and we haven’t found the center man very often as a bumper man in the position,” said coach Gerard Gallant, who was otherwise pleased with his team’s performance. “They put a lot of pressure on us and we didn’t adapt quickly enough.

“We have to compete a little harder, I think.”

Artemi Panarin saved a shot during Rangers' Game 2 loss to the Hurricanes.
Artemi Panarin saved a shot during Rangers’ Game 2 loss to the Hurricanes.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Rangers came in and, for the most part, were level with the division champions, who entered the series as clear favorites. The blueshirts mostly blunted the Hurricanes’ relentless forecheck and ground play, but at the other end they were stifled by the club that conceded the fewest goals in the NHL. The Pittsburgh series offered oodles of open ice and scoring chances, with goals falling through a bushel. This was a close quarters series, with results – 2-1 in overtime and 2-0 – that hark back to the Trap era.

Chris Kreider had a terrible game. Mika Zibanejad fought but couldn’t generate. Artemi Panarin, who spoke before the game about how he had been risk-averse in the playoffs, tried to do more with the puck in open spaces than he did in Game 1 but couldn’t. Adam Fox was closely monitored. Ryan Strome was well defended.

Rangers scored so little that Gallant juggled his combinations late in the second second, breaking up the kid line so he could flip Alexis Lafreniere with Andrew Copp and put Lafreniere in the top 6. Lafreniere struggled but the line change, which also saw Frank Vatrano replaced by Kaapo Kakko on the right flank with Kreider and Zibanejad, didn’t achieve anything.

You could say it’s unfair that Rangers have come out of those first two games with nothing and are just one loss away from being pushed to the abyss. The Blueshirts defended well enough that Igor Shesterkin never came under undue pressure. In the shifts where they were pinned at their own end, the blueshirts defended the middle. They played strong playoff hockey.

But they couldn’t close the deal because the marquee guys couldn’t even generate the opportunity to close in their marquee power game.

The Rangers weren’t necessarily outplayed or passed by the Hurricanes. The same cannot be said of their power play.

https://nypost.com/2022/05/21/rangers-once-lethal-power-play-suddenly-getting-outworked/ The Rangers’ once-deadly power play is suddenly pushed to the limit

JOE HERNANDEZ

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