Rangers

Hartnett: Lifeless Power Play, Star Players Fail Rangers In Game 2

Rick Nash of the New York Rangers and Matt Niskanen of the Pittsburgh Penguins chase down a loose puck in the corner in the second period in Game 2 of the second round of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs on May 4, 2014. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Rick Nash of the New York Rangers and Matt Niskanen of the Pittsburgh Penguins chase down a loose puck in the corner in the second period in Game 2 of the second round of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs on May 4, 2014. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

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‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns

Right now, it appears to most Rangers fans that the sky is falling. Henrik Lundqvist outplayed Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 2, yet he was on the losing end of a 3-0 shutout. The Rangers have gone a full seven games without a power play goal, going 0 for 4 on Sunday to extend their scoreless streak to 29 attempts.

Chris Kunitz, Matt Niskanen and Evgeni Malkin handed the Rangers three consecutive power play opportunities in the opening 7:04 of Game 2 – and the Blueshirts failed to cash in. What unfolded was the most lifeless, non-threatening and timid power play any hockey fan has ever observed.

Both of the Rangers’ power play units lacked any measure of work ethic, cohesiveness or movement. The Penguins’ penalty killers out-worked the Blueshirts to loose pucks. There was a lot of standing around by the Rangers on the power play, which is unacceptable. They aren’t dragging Penguins out of shooting lanes and aren’t causing Pittsburgh’s penalty killers to panic.

Fleury made 22 saves in his shutout performance, but few saves were difficult. The Blueshirts need a simplified Plan B to revert to when Plan A fails on the power play. All the Rangers need to do is send bodies to the net and the shaky Fleury will crumble. His fragile mentality is not being tested.

NASH-STEPAN-ST. LOUIS LINE DISAPPEARS

The Rangers’ top line of Rick Nash, Derek Stepan and Martin St. Louis disappeared in Game 2. Collectively, the trio registered just five shots on goal despite logging heavy minutes on the power play. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh’s star forwards Sidney Crosby, Kunitz, James Neal and Malkin all showed up with burning desperation after dropping Game 1 of the series.

Alternate captain Brad Richards was one of a few Rangers stars who showed up on Sunday. He registered six shots on goal and is playing with desire and accountability.

New York’s top stars must match the intensity of the Penguins by feeding off the energy of Madison Square Garden in Game 3 on Monday night. The Nash-Stepan-St. Louis line cannot continue to be plagued by turnovers, shy play and positional gaffes.

Nash now has one goal in 21 playoff games as a Ranger. He’s going to need to light the lamp sooner rather than later or face a backlash. Should his offensive struggles continue into Game 3, you can bet he’ll hear boos from The Garden crowd.

VIGNEAULT WILL SEARCH FOR A GAME 3 REMEDY

The Rangers hired head coach Alain Vigneault because of his calm demeanor, his patient approach toward his players and his reputation of bringing the best out of star talents.

Vigneault does not panic. He does not bark in the faces of his players like predecessor John Tortorella. When things went wrong during Tortorella’s five-year reign, the former coach did not make adjustments. Instead, he challenged his players to bend their games to fit into his system or face a prolonged benching or outright removal from the lineup. Torts stubbornly refused to modify his power play strategy during its lowest points and put his complete trust in assistant coach Mike Sullivan when it came to the power play.

Current assistant Scott Arniel has been in charge of the Rangers’ power play, but Vigneault says the success — or lack thereof — ultimately comes down to him.

“The power play ultimately is my responsibility, and I’ve got to find the right trigger points to make it work,” Vigneault said. “I’ve got to spend the night trying to figure it out.”

Vigneault admitted days earlier that he “pulled an all-nighter” studying tapes and popped a blood vessel in his eye from staring at so much film. He’s a very intelligent and astute individual. If it takes a strategic shift or personnel change to remedy the power play, Vigneault will find what’s needed to give the Rangers a better chance of testing Fleury in Game 3.

He auditioned Anton Stralman and Marc Staal in Game 2 by having them work the point on the power play. Neither made much of a difference. Perhaps, Vigneault should consider putting some of his hardworking players such as Dominic Moore and Carl Hagelin on the power play to instill energy back into the Blueshirts when they’re on the man advantage.

CROSBY FLIPPED THE SCRIPT IN GAME 2

Crosby was a non-factor in Game 1. After being shut down by Staal, Stralman, Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi in the opening game of the series, he came to life and inspired the Pens in Game 2.

Crosby is currently mired in a 13-game playoff goalless drought. He’s taken a lot of unjust criticism. Many hockey pundits have speculated whether Crosby is dealing with an injury or fatigue.

Those criticisms and questions have now been buried by Crosby, who logged 20:44 in total ice time in Game 2. The Penguins captain tested Lundqvist with six shots on goal and created havoc with his energy and powerful skating stride.

No question about it — Crosby will continue to be a big factor in this series.

Follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.

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