You have to be able to skate. It’s as simple as that.
You can have the hardest shot in the world, but if you’re not fast enough to get the puck to use it you’re useless. You can have the best hands in the game, but if you’re not fast enough to create chances it doesn’t matter. You can’t do anything without skating well, and boy, is that not an issue for the New York Rangers.
The talk surrounding this year’s Stanley Cup Final which pits a team from New York and one from LA for the first time since 1981 (in baseball) largely centers around the Kings dominance, the stacked West and how the Rangers are going to get rolled.
And, that’s not all that unreasonable. Anze Kopitar and the Kings made the Cup Final by going through three great teams featuring Joe Thornton, Ryan Getzlaf and Jonathan Toews. They won the Cup in 2012. They’re big, they’re deep, they’re a fantastic hockey team. But I really believe New York's speed could give them fits.
Carl Hagelin headlined this “best skaters” list I made here. Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider can motor. Martin St. Louis and Mats Zuccarello are small speedsters, while Rick Nash does his flying in a bigger package. Even the Rangers grinders, guys like Benoit Pouliot, Derek Dorsett and Dan Carcillo bomb around the ice at a scary pace.
The Kings defenseman are going to be asked to move and think awfully quickly, which could potentially create problems for a guy like Matt Greene who turns like the Titanic, and the 37-year-old Willie Mitchell. Up front, the Kings have a number of valuable assets like Dustin Brown, Mike Richards and Justin Williams who aren’t the most fleet of foot.
One of hockey’s best coaches, Mike Babcock, constantly talks about speed. When his team loses, it’s because they didn’t “play fast enough.” When he assembled Team Canada, he prioritized speed. He knows it puts pressure on your opponent, it creates chaos, and that creates opportunities. It’s exhausting to face.
The Rangers may be the underdog, but LA has played a lot of playoff hockey, and is about to face their fastest opponent yet.
If there’s any advantage the Rangers have, it’s their top to bottom ability to wheel. When the puck drops in Game 1, the only way they’re going to have a real chance is by cashing in that chip. Speed kills.