As a caveat to what comes next, teams and individual players tend to gradually decline in production as the season goes on. The physical taxation of an 82-game regular season is grueling, and it justifiably takes a toll on production rates. Good teams and good players are not exempt from this, but the best among them tend to mitigate that decline like riding a parachute to earth after jumping out of a plane, rather than riding an anvil. Insert ACME gif here.
But something has been particularly off with this trio since the start of the New Year. Miller, who had 28 points (ten goals, 18 assists) in those 43 games, scored just three of them over the Rangers’ final 20 games. Hayes and Grabner (6-15-21 and 13-7-20 over the last 43 respectively) also went ice cold down the stretch, both failing to score in the final 12 games of the season. Hayes had just two tallies in the team’s last 20, and Grabner had just one in that same stretch.
It’s true that the Rangers have effectively known their path to the playoffs since January. This made much of the second half of their season relatively meaningless or not very motivating. However, the lack of scoring, particularly by this collection of players who were so hot to begin the season, has been incredibly frustrating to watch as a fan.
In his previous playoff appearances, Nash was infamous for his lack of willingness to make a difficult play. He resembled more of a basketball player in that he would take the puck into the offensive zone, reach the top of the faceoff circle, and sort of “post up” by turning his body to the defender (and the net) to make a pass backwards or make a weak play towards the net.
Now, however, Nash has figured out a way to use both his superior size and “hockey sense” to generate scoring chances, particularly in the series against Montreal.
Still, despite the mitigating regular season series and the extended postseason absence the respective teams have encountered these last five seasons, there are still a number of key elements that should help predict the Rangers’ likely course to victory and by way of, their path to a third Eastern Conference Final berth in four years.
Though not in order of importance, below is a breakdown of what are likely to be the three keys to the series:
The season series between the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators doesn’t tell us much about their upcoming playoff match Ottawa won the series two games to one, but all three games were notable for who was missing from the lineup for each. Antti Raanta started two of the games for the Rangers, while New York was missing at least three of their regular forwards every game. Matt Puempel and Brandon Pirri played in all three games. The final game of the season series, the Rangers rested seven regular players, while Henrik Lundqvist was in his second game back following an injury.