Renney's moves called into question
New York Rangers coach Tom Renney has some explaining to do.
Renney is one of the leading candidates to win the Jack Adams Trophy as this year's coach of the year, but you wouldn't know it by the way his club has performed in the playoffs. The Rangers looked listless in their Eastern Conference quarter-final with the New Jersey Devils, bowing out in four consecutive games.
The boys from Manhattan were outscored 17-4 and badly outplayed by their counterparts from across the Hudson River.
Including the regular season, the Rangers lost nine straight games and endured a span of 17 consecutive periods of never holding a lead until a brief stretch in Game 4 on Saturday.
True, the Rangers were bedevilled by a rash of injuries in the post-season â leading scorer Jaromir Jagr, defenceman Darius Kasparaitis, winger Jason Ward â but some questionable decisions by Renney were also an issue.
Case in point: the Henrik Lundqvist flip-flop
Lundqvist was sensational in his freshman NHL campaign, racking up a 30-12-9 record and a stingy 2.24 goals-against average during the regular season. If not for the presence of Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, the young Swede would be a leading candidate for the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie.
Lundqvist makes spectacular saves look easy but he looked pretty ordinary in a 6-1 loss in Game 1. To lay all of the blame at the feet of Lundqvist would be unfair, though: the Rangers were called for 16 penalties and the Devils capitalized by scoring on five of their 13 power-play opportunities.
He was also hung out to dry by his defencemen, forced to fend off a number of odd-man rushes
How did Renney respond? He panicked and followed a "hunch" by benching the rookie and starting backup goalie Kevin Weekes in Game 2. The move didn't pan out as Weekes gave up four goals on 25 shots in a 4-1 loss.
One has to question why Renney felt compelled to make such a drastic move so early in the series, especially when they were minus Jagr (the club's best forward) and Kasparaitis (their top defenceman), and were playing on the road.
Surely it would have made more sense to go back to Lundqvist in Game 2 to show the rookie goalie he hadn't lost faith in him.
It's not terribly surprising that when Renney went back to Lundqvist in Game 3, he couldn't turn the tide â New York was blanked 3-0 on home ice â and keep the Rangers from edging closer to a first-round playoff exit.
And what about Renney's decision to play Jagr in Game 3?
After sitting out Game 2, Jagr admitted that he would need a miracle to be healthy enough to play in Game 3. And yet, he did play, failing miserably in his attempt to rejuvenate New York â he was held to one shot and wasn't even skating on the Rangers' top line by the end of the contest.
The Czech sniper was trying to serve as a decoy, someone who would divert the Devils' attention. Instead, his laboured presence on the ice proved to be a distraction for his teammates.
Jagr might have convinced his coach that he was fit to play, but it's Renney's responsibility to put his best team available on the ice. Jagr was far from his best on Wednesday.
Renney admitted that he considered bringing in young reinforcements from New York's American Hockey League affiliate in Hartford earlier in the series, but a sense of loyalty to the players who propelled the Rangers into the post-season for the first time in nine years prevented him from doing so.
"I've been guilty more of coaching with my heart than my head, and I have to overcome that," Renney acknowledged to the New York Post.
In the end it was too late.