There has been one irritant bothering the Rangers throughout one of the most remarkably successful seasons in franchise history — the power play. Specifically, its lack of production.
The Rangers’ power play ranks 27th in the NHL with a success rate of 15.1 percent. Only Montreal (14.6), Phoenix (14.2) and Dallas (14.1) are worse.
However, the Rangers’ man advantage units are 9-for-41 in the last 12 games. Not coincidentally, the Blueshirts are 8-4 in that stretch.
One of the keys to the improved production has been head coach John Tortorella’s decision to put Derek Stepan on the point. The subtle change allows Stepan, a natural centerman, to move the puck between Michael Del Zotto on the other point and Brad Richards.
Stepan has scored a goal and tallied three assists since the on-ice personnel restructuring. Four of Stepan’s 17 goals have come on the power play.
“I think any offensive player if things are going well on the power play, [it] helps your offensive game, or vice versa,” Tortorella said during the Rangers’ optional skate at the Wells Fargo Center Tuesday morning.
“The biggest thing that has helped Step on our power play is having him have the puck. He sees the ice well. He does bring a certain amount of patience to it. We have the puck under more control,” Tortorella said. “If he’s doing that on the power play it will certainly help his game.”
Philadelphia center Danny Briere and defense Nicklas Grossman missed Tuesday’s game due to injuries sustained in Sunday’s 6-4 fight-marred win over Pittsburgh. Grossman suffered what the Flyers termed “a lower body injury” after a first period hit by Penguins center Joe Vitale and did not return to the game. Vitale’s late-game hit on Briere sparked the end-of-game melee and caused the Philadelphia center to incur an “upper back contusion,” according to the team.
Grossman is expected to rejoin the team in time for the playoffs, but there is no time table for Briere’s return.
The Rangers saw the end-of-game fireworks Sunday. They recognize that the Flyers, Penguins and Capitals, their final three opponents, will be emotional and play desperate hockey. Yet they are unconcerned that their opponents desperation will morph into on-ice violence.
“It [didn’t] involve us,” Brandon Prust said. “Our rivalry with Philly has been pretty good this far. It’s always a physical battle. We expect the same, [but] that doesn’t mean there’s going to be a bench brawl. It’s a playoff atmosphere.”
The Rangers are acutely aware that they had beaten the Flyers in the first five regular season meetings.
It is an achievement, to be sure. It is just not one they believe will mean anything should the two rivals meet in the playoffs.
“You want to leave your mark on a team. You want them to think in the back of their mind, ‘Jeez, I don’t really want to see these guys,’ and I’m sure they’re thinking the same thing,” Mike Rupp said. “We’re not for one second going to think that these guys can’t beat us. That’s a very good hockey team over there. If they win a couple of those [earlier] games against us, they’re right with us. I don’t think for a second we’ve got this team’s number. We just found ways to come through in those games. I don’t know what their mindset it, but we’re not thinking we’re invincible against them by any stretch.”
Follow Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman as the Rangers and Devils gear up for the playoffs.