Let’s just get right into it.
Statistically they were at a dead heat, the Rangers ranked 11th at 2.71 Goals per game with the Caps ranked 14 at 2.66 G/G. Basically a push. However, let’s be real guys, Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom, and Green are a much more dangerous tandem than Gaborik, Callahan, Richards, and Del Zotto. In the playoffs neither team really showed much in the scoring department, the Rangers averaging exactly 2 goals per game over 7 games, and the Caps averaging 2.29 goals per game. The Caps were better, for sure, and the Rangers just couldn’t seem to figure out the Ottawa defense. And when it comes to defense, the Caps are worlds better than the Sens, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. One thing that may come into play here, is that the Caps have been giving a little less ice time to their stars, with Backstrom and Ovechkin getting about 2-3 minutes fewer per game than they did at this point last season. Also of note, the last time the Rangers met the caps, last year, the Rangers were without now captain Ryan Callahan, and Brad Richards who was not a Ranger. Not to mention Carl Hagelin and Chris Kreider the left wing missles of doom. Ok that was corny, but it still is worth noting. Whoever the right defenseman are for the Caps better get used to seeing a winger right on top of them every time they touch the puck. Hagelin and Kreider will be all over the Caps and it will be interesting to see how they handle that pressure. The Bruins are not the same team as the Rangers. They try to funnel everything to their defenseman for the long blasts, then they go hunting for rebound chances. The Rangers, on the other hand, much prefer to attack from their forwards, bringing in the defenseman as late men to finish off the play instead of as the focal point of the play. The Caps will try to clog up the neutral zone and counter punch the Rangers. This is the key, because while it takes the Rangers 20-30 quality scoring chances before they can put 2 goals being the oppositions netminder, it can only take the Caps 5 or 6 quality chances to put a few behind Lundqvist, their shooters know how to finish, ours don’t. Advantage Washington.
The Rangers in the playoffs have the 3rd best defense in the league giving up 1.86 goals per game, while the Caps are right behind them at 2.14 goals per game allowed, good enough for 6th. During the regular season it’s a much different story, as the Rangers were still 3rd at 2.22 goals per game, but Washington was a terrible 21st in the league at 2.76 goals per game. Did the Washington team that we saw in the first round, that was able to slow down the Bruins offense (3rd in the NHL during the regular season), just have a flash in the pan? Or are they for real? Time will tell. If the Caps can shut down the Rangers already mediocre offense, the King is going to have to make 1 or 2 goals stand up every night. It’s tough to ask that of any goaltender. On the flip side, if the Rangers are able to contain the Caps stars, in particular Alexander Semin who has been a Ranger killer since he joined the NHL, then they should be good to go. This will be where the game is won and lost. Advantage Rangers
Henrik Lundqvist was just nominated for the Hart Trophy and the Vezina Trophy….do I really need to talk about him? No, we know what we have in net. The best goalie in the world right now. Let’s talk about the other guy. Holtby was outstanding in the first series, seeing 31 more shots than Henrik Lundqvist but only giving up 3 more goals than him. Holtby was under seige…sort of. If you watch the games, all of the Bruins chances were from the outside, and from blasts from the point. That is how that team plays. They TRY to keep everything to the outside so that their D can be the focal point of their offense, leading to tips, and rebound goals. This is not really how the Rangers play. They try to wear you down with cycle pressure, they create a lot of their offense from below the hashmarks as opposed to from the blueline. Therefore the shots that Holtby was seeing, and he was seeing most of them, weren’t really high quality chances unless the teams can tip those pucks. He really didn’t make too many deflection saves to my recollection. Furthermore, Holtby gave up a LOT of rebounds, and on many of the shots he saved he had NO CLUE where the pucks were after he stopped the initial chance. The Rangers need to pounce on these chances, they need to force the kid to move, and they need someone attacking his crease at every opportunity. Holtby is a good goalie, but he’s not Henrik Lundqvist, advantage Rangers.
John Tortorella has won a stanley cup. He’s coached a team to the promise land. He’s coached the 4th youngest team in the league to the best record in the East, and has them as the highest remaining seed left in the playoffs. Dale Hunter, to my recollection, still holds the NHL record for most games played in the playoffs without a ring. He’s never won anything. He coached one of the most talented teams in the league to the 7th spot, and a squeaking win over a Boston team that, let’s face it, aside from one insane dominant month where they pretty much didn’t lose a single game, was really just a 7th or 8th seed caliber team. Advantage Rangers.
The X Factor:
Carl Hagelin and Chris Kreider give the Rangers something the Caps have yet to see, 2 speed demons who are all over the puck. You can’t take your eyes off of them, and you have to figure that the more Torts sees these kids the more ice time he’s going to give them. The specialty teams will be huge as always, you don’t expect the Rangers to do much, but if that is the case they MUST play the Caps even at specialty teams too, by not allowing any PP goals against. Play this game at even strength.
I never wanted the Rangers to play the Caps. Not for one minute. This was the team that scared me the most, and they still do. More than the Flyers, the Bruins, ok…maybe less than the Penguins, but still, they scare me a lot. However, this was more about the run and gun Caps. If they try to open up the Rangers and play that style, I think the Caps can win this series in 5 or 6 games. The Rangers just can not withstand that kind of an onslaught. However, the Caps have tried to, well, basically, play like the Rangers do. They are trying to play in their own zone, play D, etc, etc. However, the Rangers have been doing it all season long, and Hunter really only has this team playing the style the Rangers have played in the last few weeks. If Hunter forces this team to hold back and play a low scoring game, I think that plays right into the Rangers hands. If he had any common sense at all, he’s open things up and just obliterate the Rangers with wave after wave of offensive power. The same way the Flyers wiped the floor with the Pens, that’s what Washington *should* try to do to wipe the floor with the Rangers. Basically, place your bets that they can’t score more goals than you can, despite the Caps having a rookie in net, and the Rangers having Lundqvist. It sounds suicidal, but that’s really the best way to beat the Rangers. Sure, we can hold our own for some stretches, but we are prone to bending under relentless attacks. The Penguins did it to us, the Habs did it to us, etc. The Senators tried to play a more physical type of game, and in the end, we won, because that’s the type of game we are designed to win. The Caps, if they try to play our game, they will lose. So, to me, I’m going to give this a caveat, if the Caps try to force this into a low scoring series, Rangers in 7. If the Caps open up this series into a match of which team can outscore the other, the Rangers will get hammered, Caps in 5. Will be interesting to see which Capital team decides to show up.