Ryan McDonagh says the Rangers need to support each other better in the defensive zone.
Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh always is able and willing to provide an honest assessment of his team’s play from an X’s and O’s perspective, win or lose.
Following the Rangers’ 4-3 loss in Game 2 on Saturday night, I think it’s especially important to hear how McDonagh saw the game play out, given how surprising and uncharacteristic the Blueshirts’ shortcomings were in this defeat.
That’s where we begin our compilation of postgame quotes from the Rangers locker room.
McDonagh on how the Penguins took control of the game: “I feel a lot more than last game we weren’t as good getting through the neutral zone, as good getting out of our zone. They were a lot more aggressive and keeping their checks in front of us. We looked a lot for long stretch plays, and they were able to knock a lot down. We’ve got to get back to good, close support and we’ll get our legs moving there.”
McDonagh on what went wrong on the Rangers’ 1-for-7 power play: “It’s a lot of one-and-dones. Obviously you want to start with the puck on draws, and they won a lot of those, too. And it just seemed like if you got something towards the net, we weren’t able to retrieve it. You see in the third period there (to create Derick Brassard’s power play goal), you retrieve the puck back, (and) that’s when you get a longer shift, they (the Penguins penalty kill) get a little confused, and you can find some openings and plays. So it’s just a matter of really trying to battle to get that puck back for another look.”
McDonagh on whether Pens were simply better 5-on-5, or if Rangers power play gave Pittsburgh most of its momentum: “I thought they probably had the puck more five-on-five tonight, and I don’t think we were as sharp with the puck. At the start of that second period we were in our zone a lot for a good majority, and it was obviously because of not having good, close support, looking for long passes, looking for plays. They’ve got good sticks, too. And they picked a bunch of them off and were able to spend some time in our end, got confidence and kind of fed off each other there.”
Right wing Mats Zuccarello echoed McDonagh’s comments on puck management, saying the Rangers are at their best when they play a “simple” game. What’s discouraging about those issues in Game 2, though, is that “puck management” was exactly one of coach Alain Vigneault’s key points of emphasis coming out of Game 1.
The coach was reluctant to share his specific talking points after Friday’s practice, but alternate captain Derek Stepan named puck management as an area requiring improvement. Specifically, he was referring to the second period of Game 1, which got away from New York but didn’t break their backs in a 2-1 win.
That wasn’t the case in Game 2.
Of course, puck management still wasn’t the Rangers’ biggest worry. Their effort was the greatest cause of concern. The Penguins won almost every race and 50-50 puck battle.
“It was a pretty tight game,” Henrik Lundqvist said. “So the battles right in front of the net are going to be key, those rebounds or loose pucks. That was the difference today.”
Lundqvist said his Rangers teammates need to “get more traffic in front of Fleury,” and he can say that again. Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury couldn’t have had an easier first two periods if he had been sitting on Pittsburgh’s bench, save Stepan’s goal late in the first.
The Rangers said of course they hadn’t expected the Penguins to be pushovers.
“We knew they were going to come into this with more energy,” Lundqvist said. “They have some really good players. You have to respect that … We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We’ve got to come back and be better.”
Zuccarello added: “They’ve been one of the best teams in the league the last six, seven years. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy.”
Right, so they knew they were playing some proud and talented Penguins. They knew they hadn’t played their best in Game 1. They knew from previous seasons that showing killer instinct earlier in the postseason is important to closing out series’ and maximizing your chances to manage such a long run.
And yet they had less energy, lost races, weren’t skating, and couldn’t control the puck.
No one thought the Rangers were perfect, but this was a surprising evening at the Garden, indeed, because of how they lost.
The Rangers cancelled Sunday’s scheduled practice in Greenburgh and held a media availability on Sunday afternoon in the Steel City.
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