The Rangers were outplayed and outefforted, falling 4-0 in Game 7 to the Devils, losing their series against New Jersey. A season that began with hope and promise ended with at best a whimper. If we thought many questions existed after last year, this off-season likely will significantly outpace that number.
Scratches: Harpur, Brodzinski, Hajek, Leschyshyn, Domingue
(Miles Wood and Yegor Sharangovich in, Curtis Lazar and Jesper Boqvist out)
Scratches: L. Hughes, Sharangovich, Smith, Lazar, Blackwood
A few thoughts:
New Jersey was the better team. While painful to write and most painful to watch, I think we all can agree this was the case. Their young legs and continuous effort turned the series and eventually carried the Devils to the series victory. Coach Lindy Ruff’s switch to Akita Schmid, who posted shutouts in Game 5 and 7, coupled with an increased focus on locking down the neutral zone were the difference makers in the series.
Post-game, the Rangers said all the things you would expect to hear. Shock and disappointment were the two main themes. But all of that is lip-service. They all knew what was at stake and the task at hand, and expect for one player, pretty much none of them showed up. Each player has to look in the mirror this off-season and know that if this truly was their best effort, they are fooling themselves. New York was proven to be a paper tiger. The regular season in one thing, the post-season, as we saw with Boston and Colorado, is all that matters. After Game 2, the Rangers didn’t show up, plain and simple. The Game 7 performance, or lack thereof, was especially gauling as the Eastern Conference, with Boston and Tampa Bay knocked out, was there for the taking and the team couldn’t find a way to raise their game.
Coach Gerard Gallant’s comment post-game summed it up well. Gallant too needs to look in the mirror as he failed to make the right adjustments, especially after Game 3 and for Game 7. But as Arthur Staple noted, he and GM Chris Drury did not see eye to eye this season, creating the potential a change will be made. We have seen that owner James Dolan is not a patient man, which lends to the potential that he alone could decide a move is needed, lending to the possibility Gallant and/or Drury, as we saw with John Davidson and Jeff Gorton, are not safe
"Talent doesn’t mean a thing... You’ve got to play together and work together… I love to have talent, but you love to have work ethic and more forecheck and stuff like that."
I have said a lot during the year that effort beats talent when the talent lacks effort. On the same coin is Will beats skill when the skill has no will. New Jersey wanted it more. They made the effort plays and win the wall battles, leading to opportunities. The Devils played with heart and grit, making the Rangers look slow and out of sorts: a situation that other than Game 6 was on display the last five games.
Nearly all of New York’s big money players came up small, especially from Game 3 forward. Mike Zibanejad - one goal. Artemi Panarin - two assists, continuing his small playoff performance from last year. Adam Fox - shut down after Game 2 and exposed defensively. Patrick Kane - other than a few sporadic moments, invisible. Jacob Trouba - his big hit came in Game 7 when it was already too late. The only two who can truly look themselves in the mirror and not be embarrassed by what they left on the ice are Chris Kreider, save for his minus-four in Game 7, and Igor Shersterkin, who was brilliant again.
If your big money players don’t produce, then the burden has to fall to “secondary” pieces. For New York, though, the support components came up as small or even smaller. Alexis Lafreniere - nothing in seven games. Kaapo Kakko - one goal, one assist. Filip Chytil - an empty net goal and three empty assists. K’Andre Miller - one measly assist and his play in his own end looked like a forward trying to play defense. Way too many passengers, not enough driving the boat.
Interpreting Gallant’s statement above and what Staple wrote, it’s clear there was a disconnect between what Gallant wanted and Drury provided. Vladimir Tarasenko, who had moments in this series and tenure with the Rangers, was to be the big shiny object added. Gallant likely pushed for a complimentary piece that could be a grinder on the second or third line. Kane fell into the Rangers laps, all but forcing a deal here with his desire to only play for the Rangers. That acquisition, while good on paper and lengthened the lineup, changed the chemistry and complexion of the roster from which the team really didn’t recover.
This year was to be the year. No one knows what the future holds. We saw what happened after 2015. With Buffalo expects to be better, Ottawa improving and New Jersey already there, the Eastern Conference is already deeper. Plus, as seen this year, not just in New York, being built for the regular season means little come the post-season.
Now comes the decision making process. Who stays and who goes. Are Gallant and/or Drury at risk? If Gallant goes, is Joel Quenneville an option if cleared by the league? Does Drury aim to move Panarin aided by a second straight flip in the postseason building on rumors that Drury was not happy with last spring? Is Tarasenko brought back? With Laf and Kakko both disappointments to date, are either moved to find a better fit or is the system that’s impeding their growth? Does Miller have another level, as we saw down the stretch and post season last year, and is his struggles just the natural non-linear progression for blue liners? Way more questions than answers at this point with many more to be listed.
Thanks to all who read and commented during the season. It’s most certainly been a long and strange year. Appreciate all the support both personally and professionally and say thank you.