Rangers must break through on power play
Arthur StapleArthur Staple
Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school
One good chance. It's all you really need on a power play -- sometimes not even a good chance, as with Erik Christensen's no-angle goal in Game 3.
But one good chance is all the Rangers managed in seven power plays on Wednesday. It was a broken play, with three Rangers and two Caps battling in the corner before Vinny Prospal whipped a pass out to the high slot, where Marian Gaborik's one-timer was barely turned aside by Caps goaltender Michal Neuvirth.
Aside from that chance, the Rangers' 13:02 of man-advantage time was a mess. Barely any set plays in the offensive zone, not enough shots from the point, not enough movement to create space.
The Rangers are 1-for-18 in the series on the power play, and that includes a 1:25, two-man advantage in the first period of Game 3 that also didn't look so great.
The Caps haven't been much better, going 2-for-12, but Washington's power play looks different. It's because the Caps have defined roles and the sort of players who are always looking for room to be creative.
Alex Ovechkin at the point, ready to blast away. Mike Knuble parked in front, except for Wednesday, when he was out of the lineup, but the Caps still had lots of traffic in front of Henrik Lundqvist. Mike Green at one point or down along the side wall, looking to distribute.
And they're always moving, which forces the Rangers' penalty killers to move, too, pulling them away from their box defense. Ovechkin cruised to the half-boards late in the third period of Game 3, drawing Dan Girardi out to the faceoff dot. Ovechkin opened a seam and threaded a pass over to Nicklas Backstrom, whose one-timer was stopped by Lundqvist before Knuble whacked in the rebound.
On Wednesday, the Caps didn't score on their third-period power play, but in essence, they did -- Marcus Johansson's deflection of John Carlson's shot came four seconds after Sean Avery's penalty expired, which meant the Rangers were still scrambling.
They're scrambling with the man advantage, too. Two of their best power-play men from the last two seasons are out -- Ryan Callahan, who led the Rangers with 10 power-play goals this season, has a broken ankle, and Michael Del Zotto, who had 22 power-play points as a rookie last season, is in the minors and is still out with a broken hand.
Bryan McCabe has added an ability to keep the puck in the offensive zone, but his big shot hasn't been seen at all this series -- the Caps, who had the second-best penalty killing unit in this regular season, have keyed on McCabe, keeping someone tight on him.
And Gaborik, playing the opposite point, hasn't shown enough threat to shoot to draw anyone to him and create space down low.
"We have to get in the zone and get set up," Gaborik said. "When we have a chance, we have to shoot."
It sounds simple. The Rangers had 14 power plays in the two games at the Garden; other than Christensen's pinpoint shot, those power plays were not only wasted, they seemed to deflate the Rangers after they went for naught.
"They're frustrated because they want it to work, not because it's out of control," John Tortorella said. "We're trying."
With a must-win Game 5 Saturday, trying may no longer be enough. There needs to be more structure, more confidence on the power play, or there may not be any more games in which to work on it.