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Rangers-Senators matchups … as I see ‘em

Posted By Carp On April 11, 2012 @ 7:30 pm In Hockey,New York Rangers,NHL | 525 Comments

 

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FORWARDS:
Ottawa’s known as a skill and finesse team, and that is certainly true of its first line. Jason Spezza scored 34-50-84, Milan Michalek had 35-25-60, and captain Daniel Alfredsson (who has scored more points — 1,082 —  than any active player who hasn’t won the Stanley Cup, according to the Sporting News) had 27-32-59. But that doesn’t mean the Senators play a soft game. They certainly have plenty of grit in forwards like Nick Foligno, aggravating Chris Neil, Zack Smith and, if he plays, Zenon Konopka — who has fought Brandon Prust about 1,000 times.
The Rangers’ No. 1 line was really good in March and carried the offense as the team drove to the No. 1 seed in the East. Brad Richards (25-41-66) and Marian Gaborik (41-35-76) were each signed for moments such as these, and to make the power play go (more on that later). They play with speedy rookie Carl Hagelin, and they will get the attention of the Senators’ checkers, just as the Spezza line will see plenty of Brian Boyle with some combination of Brandon Dubinsky, Ruslan Fedotenko, Brandon Prust or others. Boyle probably deserves consideration for the Selke (best defensive forward) Trophy. The Rangers will need secondary scoring, and hope that can come from Artem Anisimov, Derek Stepan and captain Ryan Callahan (29-25-54). Richards and Callahan each had nine game-winners, Gaborik seven and Stepan four. Ottawa is more top-heavy. The Rangers should be deeper.
Edge: Rangers.
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DEFENSEMEN:
The Rangers’ top six is inexperienced and young, but boy did they (and others, as the unit fought injuries all year) get it done. Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh will get the shut-down assignment. Marc Staal and Michael Del Zotto sometimes play together, but often anchor the second and third pairs with Anton Stralman and Stu Bickel, who both improved as the season went on. It’s a very solid, sturdy and workmanlike corps. Staal’s performance will be critical.
Ottawa’s is built differently, with Norris Trophy favorite and budding superstar Erik Karlsson (19-59-78), former Norris candidate Sergei Gonchar (5-32-37) and puck-movers like Filip Kuba and ex-Ranger Matt Gilroy, along with veteran Chris Phillips, the most solid of the group. They can pass it, they can skate and they can shoot it. Their fortitude will be tested by the Rangers forwards, but their explosiveness is dangerous.
Edge: Even.

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GOALIES:
Henrik Lundqvist, unless the NHL’s GMs mess it up, will be a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, if not the favorite, in a wonderful season (39-18-5, eight shutouts, 1.97 goals-against, 930 save percentage). Craig Anderson allowed nearly a goal more per game while going 33-22-6, three shutouts, 2.84 GAA, .914 save pct.).
Edge: Rangers.

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SPECIAL TEAMS:
There’s little doubt that with Karlsson, Gonchar and Gilroy on the points, and the Spezza line up front, Ottawa’s power play was much better than the Rangers’ all season long. But the Rangers PP came on late, with Stepan and Del Zotto manning the points and Richards moving up to the half boards, and the puck/feet movement improving dramatically in the final weeks. It will have to be at least decent.
The Rangers penalty killers are excellent because they play the same way at even strength — blocking shots, aggressive, sticks in passing lanes, and smart. They will be tested. They will have to be good, too.
Edge: Senators.

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COACHES, SYSTEMS, EXPERIENCE:
John Tortorella won a Stanley Cup in Tampa Bay, and has been as responsible as anybody for what the Rangers have become. They play a straight-ahead, no-nonsense, all-for-one style that would seem suited for the playoffs. And now they have a lot of players who’ve at least been in the playoffs, plus Richards and Fedotenko, who won with Tampa, and Mike Rupp, who won with Fedotenko in Pittsburgh.
Paul MacLean won plenty as an assistant to Mike Babcock in Detroit for six years, including a Cup and another Cup final, and reached the final as an assistant in Anaheim before that. But whether MacLean can get this Senators team to play with the requisite grit to survive the playoff grind remains to be seen.
Edge: Rangers.

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How the Rangers could win this series:
By doing what they do, and have done, all season … playing a business-like, straight-ahead, battle-for-every-inch game that is simple but requires full buy-in. They’ve essentially been playing playoff style hockey for two seasons. And, of course, by Lundqvist simply outplaying Anderson.

How the Senators could win this series:
If the Rangers take a lot of penalties — as they occasionally have done — and give Ottawa’s power play chances, they will be hurt. Also, the Rangers have had a few (few being the operative word) games where the Rangers didn’t take care of the puck, or allowed teams to overwhelm them with odd-man rushes. Ottawa, Buffalo, Montreal and Chicago all did it at times.

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PREDICTION: Rangers in five.


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