Rangers’ once-lethal power play suddenly getting outworked

RALEIGH, NC — The power play is the source of the Rangers’ offensive identity. That is so in the good times and that is true in the bad times.

Game 2 of their second-round playoff series against the Hurricanes on Friday night, a 2-0 loss, qualifies as one of the bad times. That’s because, locked in a scoreless contest late in the second period, the Blueshirts had their shot. Well, let’s say they had their chance. Well, really not that, either.

Because after having accomplished nothing on two man-advantages in the first period against an aggressive Carolina penalty kill, the Blueshirts were awarded a four-minute power play when Brady Skjei drew Alexis Lafreniere’s blood on a high stick.

So here came the marquee unit.

And there went the game.

Because it wasn’t so much that the Rangers did not score and it even wasn’t so much that they yielded a two-on-one shorthanded goal to Brendan Smith, of all people, at 15:54 of the second period off a feed from Sebastien Aho, for a 1-0 Carolina lead.

Come to think of it, that was pretty important, given that the Rangers’ overall scoreless streak reached 116:05 in this series after this empty-net abetted defeat that sent the series to the Garden for Game 3 on Sunday afternoon, with the good guys in a familiar two-game hole.

Artemi Panarin reacts during the Rangers' Game 2 loss to the Hurricanes.
Artemi Panarin reacts during the Rangers’ Game 2 loss to the Hurricanes.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Regardless of the marquee power on any power play, the ability to outwork the opposing penalty kill unit is paramount. It’s about the ability to get position in front and to get bodies to the inside. It is about the ability to retrieve pucks and keep sequences alive.

The Rangers were unable to do that in this one. Not only did they go 0-for-4 in 7:38 of work, but also the feared power-play unit was able to generate just three attempts and two shots on Antti Raanta. The Blueshirts were under constant stress while forced to go back and start again multiple times. They did not generate a single power-play scoring chance, according to Natural Stat Trick.

This was reminiscent of Game 3 of the first round in Pittsburgh when, tied 4-4 after erasing a 4-1 deficit, the Rangers failed on three power plays bridging the second and third periods before losing 7-4.

Now, as then, the Blueshirts’ greatest strength became a weakness at the most inopportune time.

“I’m seeing a great penalty kill putting a lot of pressure on them and we didn’t find the inside guy very often in the slot as the bumper guy,” said coach Gerard Gallant, who was otherwise pleased with his team’s performance. “They put on a lot of pressure and we didn’t adjust to it quick enough.

“We’ve got to compete a little harder, I think.”

Artemi Panarin has a shot saved during the Rangers' Game 2 loss to the Hurricanes.
Artemi Panarin has a shot saved during the Rangers’ Game 2 loss to the Hurricanes.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

The Rangers came in and for the most part have stood level with the division champs, who entered the series as clearcut favorites. The Blueshirts have for the most part blunted the Hurricanes’ relentless forecheck and ground game, but they have been stifled at the other end by the club that surrendered the fewest goals in the NHL. The Pittsburgh series featured scads of open ice and scoring chances, with goals going in by the bushel. This one has been a tight-space series with scores — 2-1 in overtime and 2-0 — harkening back to the trap era.

Chris Kreider had a dreadful game. Mika Zibanejad battled, but was unable to generate. Artemi Panarin, who talked before the game about how he had adopted a risk-averse approach to the playoffs, tried to do more with the puck in open spaces than he had in Game 1, but couldn’t create. Adam Fox was closely monitored. Ryan Strome was defended well.

The Rangers generated so little that Gallant juggled his combinations late in the second, breaking up the Kid Line so he could flip Alexis Lafreniere with Andrew Copp and get Lafreniere into the top six. Lafreniere battled, but the line changes, under which Frank Vatrano also was replaced by Kaapo Kakko on the right with Kreider and Zibanejad, yielded nothing.

You might say that it is unfair that the Rangers will come out of these first two games with nothing and are just one home loss away from being shoved to the precipice. The Blueshirts defended well enough that Igor Shesterkin was never under undue pressure. On those shifts in which they were pinned in their own end, the Blueshirts defended the middle. They played strong playoff hokey.

But they could not finish the deal because the marquee guys on their marquee power play could not even generate the opportunity to finish.

The Rangers were not necessarily outplayed or outworked by the Hurricanes. You cannot say the same for their power play.


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