Friday, April 25, 2008

Pens vs. Rags: An Eastern Conference Semi-Final Preview




Everyone and there mother wanted to see Penguins and Capitals. To a lesser extent, Rag fans wanted to see Rangers and Canadiens but the homothugs in Orange and Black, the Flyers, would ruin that with a questionable call that led to the Flyers’ 4th goal. Regardless, life happens when you are busy making plans and we are left with a battle for the Eastern Conference between the Penguins and Rangers.

Both of these teams had relatively little trouble with their previous foes. The question remains whether these two teams are that good. Objectively, I’d like to think the Devils provided a solid effort but in reality, it was quite poor. The Rangers beat them to every loose puck. They won the battles along the boards and in front and forced the Devils to play un-Devil like. Some argue that would mean a more wide opening and exciting brand of hockey but rather the Devils were undisciplined and showed a truly meager attempt at playing with heart to combine with their watching-paint-dry style.

Others would argue that the Ottawa Senators were ones that showed nothing. This is in fact true but there was a greater sense of urgency from the Senators, especially with their home games and the return of captain, Daniel Alfreddson. But they were a weakened team to begin with and got below average play from Heatley, Spezza and Redden. They were left out-manned and out-gunned and the Penguins did what good teams are supposed to do: SWEEP.

Let’s take a look at some of personnel matchups between the teams:


Both of these teams offer 2 legit scoring lines with more than enough depth to chip in goals. Overall, The Penguins have the better top line performers. No one on the Rangers is within the same stratosphere as Malkin and Crosby right now but the Rangers have more talent evenly distributed as well as more scoring depth on the lower lines. Jagr is still dangerous as hell and by separating Gomez and Drury, teams don’t have much of a break when they roll all the lines out. The Pens at this point attempt to do that as well but until Jordan Staal remembers how to score again that won’t be the case. The Penguins 4th line might be one of the best in league especially with Gary Roberts back in the lineup. Their goal will be to get the puck in deep and cycle away with Laraque behind the net, Talbot along the boards and Roberts parked in front of King Henrik. The Pens have more of a checking line with the Staal line that bottled up Spezza/Heatley during the Sens series. At this point, the Rangers don’t have people that can take away either the Malkin or Crosby line defensively. Rookies for the Rangers helped propel them against the Devils and will need to continue that in this series.

Edge: Penguins


On paper, The Rangers have a clear edge from 1 – 6 on defense. The Rangers don’t have anyone flashy by any means. They just have 6 talented players who know the system and use it well. The Rangers don’t have a clear #1 style defender in the mold of Pronger or Lidstrom or to a lesser extent, Gonchar but they have about 4 #3 guys who can play solid two way hockey with great defense. Meanwhile, the Penguins are saddled by probably the worst defensive pairing in the playoffs with Ryan “Where’s my Purse” Whitney and Rob Suckderi who are both god awful despite what most Penguin homers say. These two will be murdered by the Rangers all series long and will cough it up like only they can. The Pens’ other pairings are solid and Sergei Gonchar is lethal on offense and has played spectacular second half defense. Except Pens fans know that deep down the turnover happy Gonchar is dying to be set loose. Add the fact that Kris Letang is a rookie and Hal Gill is the SLOWEST MAN in hockey and our D makes me quiver. I don’t care if they played swimmingly thus far, I’d still give a big edge to the Rags D here.

Edge: Rangers


Marc Andre Fleury has seemingly begun to flash the potential that made him a #1 pick and now is backing this up with some solid puckhandling skills. Fleury hasn’t looked unbeatable in these playoffs but he sure is playing well with better positioning, staying square to shooters and controlling his rebounds better. Lundqvist is well elite to put it mildly. The Devils offense consisted of banking in shots off Rag defenders to get their goals and praying for deflections. But this isn’t even close as Lundqvist is the best goaltender remaining in the playoffs.

Edge: Rangers


The Rangers are the class of the East despite the seedings. Regular season and standings need to be thrown out the window here. To further add to that is the extremely clutch nature of their best players: Jagr, Gomez, Drury have all played out of their minds and are all better playoff performers than regular season performers. Sure it’s arguable that Pens are the same way but the Rangers are more consistent in that regard and have more experience.

Edge: Rangers


Renney schooled Therrien in the regular season and this will likely continue. Therrien is stubborn, pigheaded and likes to throw shit on the walls and hope that something sticks. During the regular season, Renney routinely gave the Penguins different looks and slowed down this offense tremendously. Rather than adjusting, Therrien would pray that Crosby or Malkin would simply make something happen or he'd switch up the lines. Therrien is already tinkering away with his defense combos for this series. Apparently they didn't play well enough against Ottawa. Things will continue as Michel Therrien will have the dumb, dear-in-headlights look that has become part of Pittsburgh folklore since William Laird Cowhard donned the Black and Gold.

Edge: Rangers


The Rangers can do it all. Play swarming defense, score amongst the best of them and are armed with clutch players all through their lineup that seem to rise about the call of duty. I see the Ranger stealing game 1 due to a long layoff for the Pens and than jumping out to a 3-1 lead as the Penguins are horrid on the ice of MSG. Perhaps they should lay off going to Tonic West and the ESPN Zone. Alas, Michel Therrien needs to bring his coaching A game and force the Rags to play the game the Penguins want. The Pens rarely trailed against the Senators and this hid a lot of their deficiencies. The same things must occur for Pittsburgh as well as continue to play with a physical edge. The Pens have not shown that ability with the Rangers in the past and now would be the best time to awaken.

Rangers in 6

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