The first round of this year’s playoffs marks the first time that the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators have met in the post-season. On the eve of the series, the Editor of our brother site, Blue Line Station, Adam Herman and I asked each other 5 questions about the series and our opponent.
Here are my 5 questions and Adam’s Answers:
Q: Is there a chance that the Rangers will take the Sens lightly, being the #1 vs #8 seed? In other words, are the Rangers looking past the Senators?
A: I doubt it. We hear the “take it one day at a time” cliché constantly in sports but John Tortorella truly means it when he says something to that effect. He constantly shot down reporters’ questions when asking about the playoffs or if the Rangers were contenders (and not just because he dislikes the media). John Tortorella and especially Ryan Callahan and Brad Richards are going to make sure every single player in that locker room is not taking this first game, let alone the entire first round lightly.
Q: Has Brad Richards had the desired impact this year, and how important is he heading into the post-season, having a Cup Ring and Conn Smythe?
A. Whether Richards has had the “desired impact” is debatable. There were long stretches this season where he looked absolutely lost and I think all of us expected more than 66 points from him. Also, Richards was brought in largely to improve the power play so finishing 23rd in the NHL on the PP doesn’t reflect well on him.
Still, I think it would be ignorant to look at it at face value like that. After the All-Star break Richards found his game had 33 points in 35 plays while dramatically improving our power play. In the month of March when we were fighting for the division and #1 seed he was constantly the best player on the ice and had 22 points in 17 games. As you reference, his experience is important as well. Michael Del Zotto, who had an absolutely disastrous season last year, turned it around this season and credits Richards with helping him both with his play and with focusing. Derek Stepan dramatically improved this season as well and also credits Richards with helping him. Ultimately, Brad Richards (as well as any other player) was brought in with the ultimate goal of winning. The Rangers finished first in the Eastern Conference and second in the NHL and Richards played his part. So while he might have underachieved statistically during the regular season, it’s hard to argue against his contributions to getting the Rangers to where they are. Ignoring Lundqvist, there is no player the Rangers depend on more than Richards going into the playoffs.
Q: In the Senators bubble, there is optimism that the Rangers are a very beatable first round opponent. What are you expecting from the Senators once the puck drops for game 1.
A. I expect the Senators to come out with a lot of speed and grit right away. The first line aside, the Senators don’t have many impact offensive players. However, guys like Foligno and Greening and Smith are going to play every shift hard and look to make things happen. If the Rangers’ defense decides to come out timid then we could have some issues early on.
Q: How vital is Henrik Lundqvist to the Rangers success?
A. Are the Rangers going to live and die by the play of Henrik Lundqvist like they have in the past? Likely not. That being said, we’re not a team that can consistently score four or five goals every game. We can praise Gaborik and Richards and Girardi and McDonagh all we want but ultimately Henrik Lundqvist is the backbone of this hockey team, and the players and coaches show no hesitation in admitting as much. We’re not going to need the 2003 version of JS Giguere in net to win but make no mistake about it; it’s going to be incredibly difficult – perhaps even impossible – for the Rangers to make a legitimate run at the Stanley Cup if Henrik Lundqvist is not playing like one of the top goaltenders in the NHL.
Q: Around Ottawa the feeling is that the defense of the Rangers is where they can be exposed. Are the Rangers deep enough defensively or is Lundqvist masking a real soft spot for the Blueshirts?
A. I’m not so sure. Ottawa fans saw Dan Girardi at the All-Star Game and while he doesn’t have name recognition he’s been an absolute stalwart on the blue-line for us; our version of Anton Volchenkov. Some would argue that Ryan McDonagh has been the best defenseman in the entire Atlantic Division because he simply does everything well and rarely makes mistakes. Del Zotto has significantly improved his defensive play and Anton Stralman has completely changed his identity and has become a pretty reliable defensive defenseman. Of course, this team relies heavily on Lundqvist to play his part but this isn’t like past seasons where he is constantly bailing everyone out; Tortorella has done an absolutely excellent job of making both forwards and defensemen buy into the system defensively; even Gaborik is blocking shots and throwing hits in the defensive zone.
The big question mark for me is Marc Staal. Staal suffered a concussion at the end of last season and as a result could not do any sort of conditioning during the summer or training camp and did not suit up for a game until the Winter Classic in January. and He’s made some strides since January but he’s still definitely not at full form and Tortorella believes he won’t be back to normal until the offseason, when he can work out during the summer and normalize his conditioning and preparation. I think is Marc Staal can play even 75% to his abilities then the Rangers have as good of a top four as anyone in the NHL. If not, then yes; we might have a problem.
You can Visit BlueLine Station to see the questions Adam asked me, as well as my responses. Thanks to Adam for participating in this healthy exchange of ideas.