Sitting atop the Eastern Conference with 71 points, the New York Rangers have a lot to be proud of, especially their stingy team defense, which starts with goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
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But the Rangers’ strong first 52 games has masked a team Achilles heel: one of the NHL’s worst power plays. As the team grinds through late winter and battles for the Eastern Conference regular-season crown and the President’s Trophy, coach John Tortorella and general manager Glen Sather will likely give much thought to how to get their team to improve with the man advantage.
And if the Rangers’ power play does not improve by the time the Stanley Cup playoffs commence, New York will find itself at a disadvantage, despite working all season for Game 7s at home.
Last year’s Boston Bruins were the only team in the last three playoff seasons to reach the Stanley Cup Final with a power play that did not finish in top half of all participating teams, percentage wise.
The Rangers’ power play woes were on full display during Tuesday’s 1-0 loss to the Devils at Madison Square Garden when they failed to convert on three opportunities. They followed that up on Thursday night by going 1-for-3 in a 4-3 home win against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
New York is 27th in the NHL with the man advantage this season, having converted on just 13.1 percent of its opportunities.
Tortorella, who brought a reputation as an offensive-minded coach to the team, has surely been frustrated by his team’s power play performance.
He simply told reporters "we’ll keep working on it," after the loss to New Jersey.
Brad Richards signed a nine-year, $60 million contract with the Rangers this summer, with one of the expectations being that he would improve the team’s power play. Not so much, as Richards has a total of three goals and 10 assists on the power play this season.
Nevertheless, Tortorella has been pleased the 31-year-old center’s recent play.
"I tell you, even though our power play has struggled, (Richards) has done a much better job as far as our entries and the patience he has with the puck," the coach said before the win against the Lightning. "He’s made some really good plays on our entries. We’ve done squat with it on the end zone, but he has done really good things getting us in the end zone."
Richards has performed in crunch time, it is just usually at even strength. The center’s overtime goal against Tampa Bay on Thursday night was his seventh game-winning goal of the year.
The Rangers have mainly leaned on Richards (leads the team power play time on ice per game at just over four minutes), Ryan Callahan (who scored a power play goal on Thursday), Marian Gaborik and Derek Stepan up front on the power play with Michael Del Zotto and Dan Girardi as the most frequent point men.
While no reports indicate any trades are imminent, Sather is likely working the phone lines for some stretch-drive reinforcements.
Because the team’s MVP, who has little to do with the power play yet everything to do with its stellar penalty kill, knows how important that facet of the game can be.
"In the second half and playoffs, especially," Lundqvist said after the Devils loss, "we have to make sure our power play and our penalty kill is sharp."