Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Pittsburgh Series Postmortem

Now that the initial distress and anger has worn off, I will do the first of what I am sure will be many postmortems on the year the Rangers had.

And I will start with this series: Sean at Going Five Hole said it best:
The history books may record this series as a 4-1 win for the Penguins, but it was much closer than that. Any of these games could have gone either way with a bounce or break here or there.
The Rangers were a post away from OT in Game 1 and a bad whistle from OT in Game 2. Honestly, I find it difficult to give the Pens credit but they certainly deserve plenty -- after all, they won.

Why is it so hard for me? I guess it is because the Rangers were so close to victory. If only they were smart and kept to their game-plan throughout the series, then they would be headed home for a raucous series against Philly. Instead, the Blueshirts allowed the Pens to dictate the tempo, go where ever they wanted and play as fast and loose as they wanted. The officiating didn't help at all, but players can't control that - they could control how they reacted, and the Rangers reacted poorly.

I believe that just four players can walk away from this series pleased with their efforts (but hope that they won't so they remain hungry):
*Ryan Callahan - outside of standing still 'exhausted' during the Hollweg penalty kill in Game 3, he was fantastic.
*Chris Drury - he gave everything he could to the Rangers except for a timely goal.
*Henrik Lundqvist - Games 1 and 3 were disappointing, but he was solid in 4 and positively masterful in 2 and 5.
*Jaromir Jagr - I guess he gave it all in Game 4 and had just had nothing left for 5 but at least the Garden was able to see him at his best (if this is to be the end).
>Honourable mention to Marc Staal and Brandon Dubinski.

And, of the rest, there were four who should not be able to look in the mirror at themselves:
*Brendan Shanahan - as I said in the game wrap, his contributions over his career are incredible, but when the Rangers needed him the most he disappeared.
*Christian Backman - while I am not sure subbing him earlier in the series would have changed any of the outcomes, it certainly would not have hurt. He contributed nothing while being a detriment to the team's defense. The thought of watching another year of him makes me ill.
*Scott Gomez - he set such a high bar playing against his former team that the goal and three assists he accumulated in this series seemed like a pittance. He never dominated and rarely showed off his shooting skill.
*Michal Rozsival - perhaps Renney overworked him but, as had been the case during the regular season, Rozsival never seemed to commit to offense or to defense and that hurt him on both sides of the ice. He made costly turnovers, lost body position all too many times and took three bad penalties in the one game that demanded discipline the most.
>Dishonourable mention to Marty Straka and Dan Girardi.

Now for the part that I am reluctant about: giving credit to the Pens. Much like with the Rangers, I will focus on a few of the major parties.
*Evgeni Malkin - while Cindy gets the headlines, Geno is better all-around and can dominate physically.
*Rob Scuderi - a Long Island native, Scuderi was a rock on the blueline.
*Jarkko Ruutu - his usual dirty play went unnoticed by the referees while annoying the Rangers. Just what Pittsburgh wants from their resident pest.
*Ryan Malone - there are far too few power forwards in the league nowadays but he is certainly one. As a fan of Cam Neely, I love the style of play and can appreciate his game.
>Honourable mention to Sergei Gonchar and possible future Ranger Brooks Orpik.

And here is how Philadelphia can beat them:
*Discipline. After the initial insanity that started off the year in Philly, a lack of discipline hasn't been predominant. Don't let it come back from the dead.
*At the same time, hammer the kids and protect your turf. The battle between Malone and Jason Smith should be epic.
*Mike Richards loves to go to the net, just send him in against the right-side defenseman as that is the weaker side of the Pens' D.
*Biron has been magical at times but don't leave him alone to deal with a resurgent Marian Hossa. Like Danny Briere, Hossa seems to find cracks in the coverage and gets himself to good spots. Don't let him find any.

My prediction on the coming series? Flyers in six, but part of that may come from my still fuming hatred of the Penguins. Personally I will keep an eye on the Battle of Pennsylvania, but the better hockey should be out west. I love both the Wings and the Stars and both are well-rounded, well-built hockey teams. Hopefully they will be a treat to watch.

As for what's coming for the Rangers, I will post a season-ending report card later this week and will then go through the list or perspective free agents and see who will help the Blueshirts in their quest for Stanley next season.

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