Thursday, May 1, 2014

Quick thoughts on Pens-Rangers: Unfortunately, the Rangers are good

By Finesse (follow me on Twitter)

The first thing that jumps out when looking at the Rangers roster is, "Damn. They have a lot more good players than Columbus."  Pierre McGuire's hyperbolic cheerleading for the plucky Columbus Blue Jackets aside, that wasn't a particularly good team.  The BJs had one or two good players, a smattering of pretty decent players, and then a bunch of whatevers.  Derek MacKenzie, Mark Letestu, Jack Skille, Artem Anisimov, Blake Comeau ... those guys are OK forwards to round out a lineup if your top lines have stars like Crosby and Malkin.  If your top lines are anchored by Brandon Dubinsky and a good-but-still-too-young Ryan Johansen, then you're not a deep team.  You're an average team.

The Rangers are not average.  In Nash, St. Louis, Stepan, Richards, Pouliot, Zuccarello, Brassard, Hagelin, and Boyle, the Rangers have 9 good forwards.  A 4th line of Dominic Moore, Derek Dorsett, and whoever else they dress is certainly no worse than a fourth line featuring Tanner Glass.  Their defense is very good (4th in goals against during the regular season), and unlike Columbus which had one good defenseman (Jack Johnson), the Rangers actually have four good defensemen (McDonagh, Girardi, Staal, and Stralman), which means they're not going to be at a huge disadvantage to either Crosby or Malkin's line (assuming they split up), and can shelter any weaker defensemen by playing them against the Pens' relatively weak bottom 6.   And while Lundqvist has never really impressed against the Pens, it doesn't mean he's not a good goalie.  It would hardly be surprising if he stole a game (or several) and, unlike with Fleury, it would be very surprising if Lundqvist blew a game for the Rangers.  They are also finally playing for a coach who they don't hate.

Oh, and don't underestimate this point: one of these two teams had the good sense to waive Taylor Pyatt; the other one picked him up.

No love lost (or good plays made) when Taylor Pyatt is involved.
This all adds up to a simple fact: the Rangers are a significantly better team than the last three teams the Pens have beaten in the playoffs (NYI, OTT, CBJ).  Forget the disparity in points during the regular season (Pens won the division by 13 points) because what happened in November is irrelevant: the Rangers had more wins in the second half of the season (25) than the Pens (22).  (Counterpoint: So did Columbus).  They gave up more than 30 shots only once in 7 games against Philly, and 8 different forwards scored 2 goals.  They won without getting any goals from Rick Nash (who we all think sucks), and if you subscribe to the theory that Crosby is due to breakout in Round 2, you have to also believe Nash is due for the same.  They traded their captain, under whose leadership they never won anything, for Marty St. Louis, who is not only a much better player than Ryan Callahan, but has been a nightmare for the Pens to handle.  Unlike 2008, they won't be hampered by Jaromir Jagr's poor leadership of spending more time worrying about whether Crosby is diving than trying to win the game.

Someone was in someone's head.
The Rangers are a legit team that could not only beat the Pens, but actually win the Cup.


  1. I'd like to second that Marty scares the bajeesus out of me (although I think you underestimate Callahan as a Penguin-killer).

    You've done a fine job outlining all the reasons to be pessimistic. I certainly agree that the Pens are not the favorite going in, given their exasperating inconsistency. That said - they have a legimate chance to win, and there are reasons to be at least somewhat hopeful:

    1) They don't wear orange, making the odds of the boys not losing their minds slightly higher. The one thing the Pens did do almost perfectly in the BJs series was maintain their composure. They walked away consistently. All of them - even Tanger, once he calmed down by Game 3. And it isn't like the Jacket's didn't give them cause to get worked up. I'd like to see that carry over into a somewhat more intense rivalry before trying to carry it over into the circus that is Pitt-Philly.

    2) The Rangers are deep on both sides of the puck, but St. Louis is really their only potential game-breaker. Shut him down (not easy and sure as hell not guaranteed) - and are Nash, Richards, and Zuccarello going to be able to pick up the slack, seeing as it isn't 2006? Is Brad Richard still a "good forward"?

    Genuine question: would you trade (hypothetically, just for this series) Richards for Beau Bennett, let alone Jussi or another of our top six? Or hell, even Brandon Sutter 2.0? If the answer is no - then how scary is that forward group really? Good, yes - but anywhere near as scary as the Pens or the Flyers or the Bruins?

    3) Lundqvist is a excellent goalie, but the Pens have had his number. He's had good games against them, but he's had more stinkers. They've made him (Sid especially) look really bad on a regular basis. I don't think this is an accident: HL plays a particular style, and everyone knows how far he stays in the net. That will make is easier to deal with net-front traffice, play behind the net, but it also puts him at risk against the Pens snipers. (Or at least that's my take away based on my very limited X and Os understanding of the goaltending position.) That certainly doesn't mean he won't steal a game or two - but we could also see the Pens put up 5 in a game or two, like they've done often against him the last few years.

    4) Thank God they don't wear orange.

    1. I share your excitement about the Rangers not being the Flyers.

      You might be underestimating Brad Richards. He's not the Conn Smythe version of himself, but he just had 6 points in 7 games against the Flyers and he had 51 points this season. Nothing to sneeze at. It's not that any of their players are great, it's that they're all good. And when the Pens get sloppy defensively, they can give the opposition A LOT of room. A guy like Richards who is past his physical prime can still do damage when he has space. So yeah, I'd 100% take Richards over any of the guys you mentioned.

      I'm not shortchanging the Pens in any of this. I'm just saying that I think the Rangers are a good team, and they've gotten better as the season has gone on.

    2. Fair enough - and it may be that I'm judging based on last season's BR, when he didn't do a thing. I feel like it's been forever since I watched the Rangers play, since I don't get NBCSN. I didn't get to see a lot of that series. (I still wouldn't trade Jussi for him, though, or any of our top-6. I heart Jussi.)

      If I was going to rank those above, though, I think it's #3 I'm interested in seeing how it plays out. The Rangers aren't an obviously good or bad match-up for the Pens as a team: the season-series and the games generally seem to end up pretty even. But I do think that for whatever reason, they match-up really well against Lundqvist. But we'll see: he'll probably turn into Tukka Rask.