Fresh clashes create opportunities for Rangers front row

PITTSBURGH — As for the Rangers, the playoffs are no longer tested heading into Games 3 and 4 on the road:

1. Gerard Gallant is not a slave to matchups and never has been throughout his career, but it’s clear the coach has done his best to limit the number of shifts that the Alexis line Lafrenière-Filip Chytil-Kaapo Kakko Kid takes on Sidney Crosby’s unit. which includes Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust.

That’s why the Kids got just 7:19 of ice time as a unit in Thursday’s Game 2 win 5-2.

That dynamic will likely change in these next two road games, where Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan has the latest change. There are extreme methods with which visiting teams can avoid disadvantageous matchups, but these maneuvers can create chaos on the bench for teams unaccustomed to such maneuvers.

You can bet this, though: Unless unavoidable by force of a punt, the Chytil line won’t take faceoffs in the defensive zone. The unit took four in the first two games, compared to 14 each by the Zibanejad unit and the Artemi Panarin-Ryan Strome-Andrew Copp connection.

It is therefore expected that the youngsters of the Blueshirts will be force-fed with a good dose of Crosby. But while that presents a challenge, it can also create an opportunity for Chris Kreider-Mika Zibanejad-Frank Vatrano to shed a defense-focused approach and move on the attack.

Chris Kreider (20) and Mika Zibanejad (93) celebrate.
Chris Kreider (20) and Mika Zibanejad (93)
robert sabo

The Zibanejad line got about 50 percent of ice time against Crosby, who had no such thing in a six-game first-round loss to the Islanders last year. Most of the attention was on stopping the Penguins’ best guns, which contributed to four of the club’s five even-strength goals. Rangers need to turn things around and force the Penguins to focus on defending Zibanejad, Kreider and Vatrano.

The Zibanejad Line, which scored two goals on seven shots, must become dangerous. If he’s not shackled to defend Crosby, it becomes a more realistic request.

2. Barclay Goodrow’s absence for what is expected to be an extended period of time makes it harder to get around Chytil’s points issues, although Chytil won 3 out of 7 in Game 2 after being 1 out of 10 in the opening game. Gallant cannot call on Goodrow to intervene in these face-offs.

While there may not be much of a drop on the fourth line with Dryden Hunt replacing Goodrow, the penalty kill will surely be impacted. Additionally, and perhaps more critically, losing Goodrow limits Gallant’s options with the front six in late-game defensive situations.

But look, the Penguins have sixth career bottom Danton Heinen playing with Evgeni Malkin following the injury to Rickard Rakell in Game 1 on Ryan Lindgren’s hit late in the first period of Game 1.

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It doesn’t just take a village to win the Cup, it will take a village to win this series.

Igor Shesterkin defends the net in Rangers' Game 2 win over the Penguins.
Igor Shesterkin defends the net in Rangers’ Game 2 win over the Penguins.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

3. The Rangers spent enough time in the offensive zone and had enough puck possession to earn more than two power plays in the first 57:56 of Game 2. Beggars can apparently pick, though, for those pairs of advantages humans. came after a 118:05 streak in which the Blueshirts weren’t rewarded with a single power play as the Penguins had six in the meantime.

This represents a continuation of a trend throughout the season’s four-game series in which Pittsburgh held a 12-6 power-play lead. It’s worrying. Much of the Rangers game and identity stems from the power play.

4. Igor Shesterkin’s work was legendary, with the presumptive Vezina winner stopping 118 of 124 shots for a .952 save percentage as Evolving Hockey credited a 3.55 GSAA (set goals over average) in his first two playoffs in the NHL Games.

But the Penguins’ goalie advantage was largely negated until Rangers broke through to score four goals against Louis Domingue in 26:50, bridging the gap between the final two periods of Game 2.

The Blueshirts must make it a point to take advantage of this third-string keeper, who only plays due to injuries to Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith.

5. Ryan Reaves, whose 16:10 of ice time in Game 1 was the highest total of his playoff career, which now stands at 86 games, set the tone on the ice, taking his body in a way responsible at every opportunity. Reaves brings an aura to the ice with him.

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