The most revealing thing anyone associated with the Rangers has said regarding their offensive struggles came prior to Game 2 of their second-round series against Carolina. That’s when Artemi Panarin described wanting to do “some stupid s–t on the blue line,” but being hindered by the team’s conservative game plan.
In light of Friday night, when the Rangers were beaten 2-0 by the Hurricanes and recorded just four high-danger chances, it’s fair to wonder whether it’s time to start taking more risks in the name of giving Carolina goaltender Antti Raanta a more serious test.
“We didn’t win the games,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “So yeah, to a point. But I don’t want us to change a whole lot.”
Carolina’s defense, which employs a man-to-man structure, has given the Rangers fits. The Rangers’ stars, Panarin in particular, have struggled to find any space or create with the puck. Struggles in the faceoff circle have not helped, either.
“When we’re in their end, trying to beat guys one on one,” Alexis Lafreniere said Saturday. “They play man to man, so it’s just try to beat your guy. Go to the net … it won’t be that many fancy goals. It’s gonna be hardworking goals in front of the net. Rebounds, tips so just go to the net, do the right things. If you do the right things for 60 minutes, you’re gonna get some bounces.”
Kevin Rooney pointed out that the Rangers have been a good defensive team all season, so in that sense, a low-event game can work in their favor. But no one is mistaking the Rangers for last season’s Islanders. Much of the reason the Rangers ranked second in goals against came down to one man, goaltender Igor Shesterkin.
Though the Rangers were in position to win the opener, the series has been played on Carolina’s terms, save for the first 40 minutes.
Whether that means opening things up for Panarin to freelance as he would in the regular season or just employing a slightly less conservative game plan is a question for Gallant to grapple with.
“I think if we can continue to be patient and let things happen as they do and not try to force anything — cause that’s where you get into trouble against this team — then we’ll get rewarded,” Rooney said.