Ed Mulholland-US PRESSWIRE
I was so immersed in the Rangers’ surprising playoff run, that I wasn’t even able to process what I was seeing. But now that it’s over, the observations are starting to crystalize. This was a team that did a lot of things right (<cough>goaltending</cough>), but suffered a few mis-steps that ultimately cost the Rangers a shot at the Stanley Cup. I’m cataloging the failures, because the successes are fairly obvious (<cough>goaltending</cough>).
- Crazy lines: This is a recurring theme with coach John Tortorella. For whatever reason, he doesn’t like to keep lines together, even though his team had a tremendous regular season run using persistent line combinations. The constant line juggling made it hard for opposing coaches to determine match-ups, but it also forced the Rangers to simplify their play to the point where there was very little east-west movement. Passing benefits from familiarity and the Rangers often looked like a team trying to figure out teammates’ tendencies.
- Conservative play: Tortorella coined the phrase and philosophy ‘Safe is death’ back in 2002 while coaching the Lightning, but in the playoffs, his team played a painfully safe game. So safe that it became dangerous. Tortorella didn’t use more than three forwards on the powerplay until the Rangers were facing elimination against New Jersey. The Rangers didn’t push the tempo of any game unless they were losing. In general, the Rangers did a lot of waiting and never really put any team away through all three rounds.
- Belief in Carl Hagelin: Tortorella shoveled tons of ice time on the rookie Hagelin (an average of 16:45 per game) and Hagelin had just three assists and a -3 to show for it. Artem Anisimov averaged under 14 minutes per game and had 3 goals, 7 assists, and a +1. Hagelin’s speed was dazzling and he had some fantastic chances, but at the end of the day, he wasn’t finishing. At a certain point, a coach needs to look at performance versus potential. Sure, Hagelin had/has more upside than Anisimov, but if Anisimov is producing, don’t you want him on the ice?