With Sidney Crosby
coming out of his slump, the Rangers
need more from their top defensive tandem. (Icon SMI)
By Allan Muir
A couple of quick thoughts ahead of tonight's NHL playoff games in New York (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS) and Anaheim (10 p.m.; NBCSN, TSN, RDS).
• I spoke to an NHL executive this morning who disagreed with my assessment that the pressure was on New York's stumbling top line of Rick Nash, Derek Stepan and Martin St. Louis to produce tonight. "It's all on [Henrik Lundqvist]," he said. "[The Rangers are] giving him no margin for error. They have to get the puck out of their zone, spend some time down at the other end. You can't expect him to play like [he did in Game 2] every night, but that's about what it's going to take for them to beat Pittsburgh the way they're going."
Rangers vs. Penguins Game 2 recap | Box score || Observations
• It might help if New York's defense shows up for Game 3. It was a brutal night for Ryan McDonagh, who was posterized by Sidney Crosby on the way to a Corsi of just 17.4 percent. McDonagh was on the ice for 19 shots attempts-against compared to just four-for during five-on-five play. Dan Girardi was nearly as bad, with a 26.9 rating (19/6). The numbers illustrate how helpless they were against Pittsburgh's top line, and how much better they have to be tonight just to deny the Pens such a huge advantage of possession time in the Rangers' zone.
• It lacked the flash of his dash around McDonagh or that tricky backhand off the rush, but one of my favorite Crosby moments from last night came on the final power play after his stick broke. He dropped the twig but kept the play alive by kicking the puck back to the point. Just a savvy play that speaks to his engagement. Even when he's not scoring goals, he finds a way to make a difference. That's what the best players do.
• Sentiment aside, Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau was absolutely right to bench Teemu Selanne for Game 4 of the Dallas series. It might be too harsh to call him an empty sweater, but Selanne definitely looked like a 43-year-old against the Stars. A step too slow, a tick too late with his once blistering release. He was dragging his linemates down.
Selanne was a little better during the final two games as the Ducks closed it out in six, but it wasn't until Game 1 against the Kings that he really showed some of that old Finnish Flash. He scored the goal that gave Anaheim a lead midway through the third and brought some brute force to the table, delivering the hit that knocked Robyn Regehr out of that contest and, likely, tonight's Game 2.
Kings vs. Ducks Game 1 recap | Box score | Observations | Highlights
Nobody's expecting him to be a physical presence tonight, though Boudreau appreciated Selanne's commitment to the cause. But he can't afford any let-up in his intensity. It's a good bet that goals will be at a premium in this series, and the Ducks will need contributions from players other than Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf if they want to get past the stingy Kings. You don't want to read too much into one game, but this could be Selanne's chance to go out on a high.
• Jonas Hiller was first off the ice after Anaheim's practice this morning, so it looks like he's your Game 2 starter. The veteran took some heat for allowing the tying goal by Marian Gaborik with just seven seconds left in Game 1, but that one's on backliner Bryan Allen and his failure to clear (and Boudreau for having Allen out there in the first place). Hiller had made a couple of excellent stops just moments earlier, and was plenty sharp enough to earn another start. You have to think, though, that if things go south in this one that the Ducks will give a lot of thought to coming back with Frederik Andersen in Game 3.
• If the Kings are vulnerable, it's at the bottom end of their blueline. Jeff Schultz is stepping in tonight for Regehr, and Matt Greene is already in place for Willie Mitchell. Neither of the injured players is a superstar, but both bring a steady defensive presence that is bolstered by their punishing physical play. The newcomers need to keep their games simple and avoid running around--something Greene was guilty of in the first round. The key for the Ducks then is to take advantage of the last change whenever possible to get their top line out against those players, get the puck into their corner and force them to make plays.