The New York Rangers trail the Los Angeles Kings 3-1 in the Stanley Cup Final with a chance to extend the best-of-7 series Friday at Staples Center (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS). They barely held on to win 2-1 in Game 4 on Wednesday, but there were some positive things for them to take away that could help them keep their run going.
Put bluntly, they need to do against the Kings what L.A. has done against everyone all season long.
The Kings are a power/skill team; they're almost like a hybrid NHL/NFL team because they can just dominate you physically with all four lines and their three defense pairs. But they're a faster team than people recognize. Marian Gaborik is a speed merchant and Drew Doughty can fly. They're also willing to go to the net and defend the front of their own net. They do those things consistently.
With the Rangers, they're a fast team, which is a big part of their DNA. They've played faster under coach Alain Vigneault and have been encouraged to play faster. But in Games 2 and 3 of this series, the Rangers also did a great job of hitting. They didn't shrink when it came to physical play. The Rangers have more hits than people thought they would coming into this series. I give them credit for that. When they're in motion they've been able to make some big hits, which we've seen from players like Anton Stralman and Ryan McDonagh. They're not as bruising as the Kings, but they can be physical.
They'll never out-King the Kings, but New York will need to continue to be physical if it wants to bring the series back to Madison Square Garden for Game 6.
At the start of Game 4, before the ice seriously got tilted in the Kings' favor, the Rangers started going to the front of the net more. That's what resulted in both their goals. It's not a novel concept. Why chip from 30 feet when you can putt from five?
The Rangers did that on both goals in Game 4, but it's not something they do consistently on the offensive end. They also don't box out consistently on the defensive end the way the Kings do. But I must say they did a better job on defensive-zone box-outs in Game 4, which allowed goaltender Henrik Lundqvist to get better looks, absorb more pucks to the body and limit the number of rebounds.
We've already seen teams adopt their opponents' traits in the Cup Final. You have to take on certain parts of the persona of your adversary in order to beat them. Look at the Chicago Blackhawks last year. Chicago wasn't going to beat the Boston Bruins in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final by just making pretty plays off the rush. They had to play a Bruins-type game to beat Boston. It became more of an end-zone offense with a cycle game. They also used their points a lot more to maintain puck possession in the offensive zone and got some ugly goals off deflections and tips. That is typically how Boston generates its offense. The Chicago Blackhawks were willing to do those things, and that ultimately is what helped them win the Stanley Cup last year.
If the Rangers want to win, they need to keep pushing the tempo and make the Kings play at a faster pace. That being said, they have to get in and around Los Angeles goaltender Jonathan Quick.
Right now a lot of Rangers shooters think they need a perfect shot to beat Quick. But here's the reality: When it's all said and done, you can't be too fine with your shot selection. It's not just about beating the goalie. You don't have to shoot to score a goal. You can also shoot to create a goal. If you have a presence in the front of the net and low slot or down on the far post, Quick has to contend with multiple threats. That's a split-second read that he needs to make instantaneously. That also makes it hard for the goalie to stay committed to the puck angle, because he's always looking over his shoulder. You're giving him things to think about and not letting him get comfortable in the net.
The Rangers still are trying to set up Martin St. Louis in his office at the right faceoff circle, which is fine. But when he did score in Game 4 where was he? Right in the crease. That's more of what they need to do to bring the series back to New York.
If you don't want to shoot from the dots up, you're giving up a lot of chances and making the opposing team comfortable. Because they know they don't have to worry about that and it gives them more time to set up their coverage.
When it comes to shot selection it's about volume, because if you have a volume of shots, which L.A. does, and you have the bodies willing to go there, now you're cooking with gas.