F Street Faithful
by Matthew Tate on 04/28/12 at 12:20 PM ET
For the 3rd time in the past 4 years, the Washington Capitals and the New York Rangers will meet in the Stanley Cup playoffs. In both of the previous 2 series, the Capitals and Rangers met in the first round of the playoffs, with the Capitals advancing on both occasions. This time around the two will meet having already advanced past the first round and, more importantly, the Rangers will be the ones with the home ice advantage. Here’s a quick look at what each team did in the regular season to get here. Parentheses note league rank.
Washington: 42-32-8: 92 points
New York: 51-24-7: 109 points
Washington: 2.66/game (14th)
New York: 2.71/game (11th)
Washington: 2.76/game (21st)
New York: 2.22/game (3rd)
Washington: 16.7% (T-18th)
New York: 15.7% (23rd)
Washington: 81.6% (T-20th)
New York: 86.2% (5th)
Alex Ovechkin: 38 goals
Marian Gaborik: 41 goals
Alex Ovechkin: 65 points
Marian Gaborik: 76 points
Joel Ward: +12
Ryan McDonagh: +25
Dennis Wideman: 46 points
Michael Del Zotto: 41 points
Dennis Wideman: 23:54/game
Dan Girardi: 26:14/game
Braden Holtby: 4-2-1/2.49/.922/1 SO
Henrik Lundqvist: 39-18-5/1.97/.930/8 SO
Once again, the Capitals will be looking uphill at their opponent. The Rangers were one of the best teams in the league during the regular season, finishing within a win of the President’s trophy. Going into the playoffs, the Rangers were predicted to by some to have a legitimate shot at the Stanley Cup, while the Capitals were predicted by practically nobody to be golfing now.
The first round showed that the Capitals were not as bad as most thought, but it also showed that the Rangers are far from invincible. Their first round series against Ottawa should have been a short one. Instead, the Rangers found themselves holding on for dear life with a one-goal lead near the end of Game 7. Behind some steady goaltending from Chris Anderson and some role players aggravating the Rangers, the Senators managed to come within inches of pulling a Montreal.
That being said, the Capitals are in no way looking at a fully solved Rangers team. The Senators’ success should be largely attributed to using some questionable tactics to get the Rangers off of their game, something I do not think you will see the Capitals use. Guys like Neil and Carkner were able to get under the skin of the Rangers just enough to make them lose a bit of focus. I certainly do not expect Matt Hendricks to be throwing sucker punches at Brian Boyle. In fact, I would be willing to bet the Rangers are much more likely to look for some contact after the whistle. They did, after all, lead the NHL in fighting majors during the regular season. The Caps were able to turn the tide of the opening round series by avoiding the extracurriculars. They will need to consistently do this against the Rangers.
The scrums will certainly exist in this series, but, as always, the game will be decided between the whistles. The one thing that does play into the hands of the Caps in this series is that the Rangers play a very similar game to the Bruins. They both rely heavily on their defense and would be just as happy mucking it up in the corners as they would pulling off a tic-tac-toe passing play. I would say that the defensive corps of the Bruins is slightly better than the Rangers, but the Rangers certainly have reason to claim the better goaltending. The Caps should have to change very little in their approach between the series.
The Caps spent most of the Bruins series relying on their role guys to chip in with timely goals. This was clearly evident in the deciding Game 7 where they advanced on goals from Matt Hendricks and Joel Ward. While these guys will have to continue to score some timely goals, the Caps will need the best from their top guns. Alex Ovechkin finished the first round with 2 goals and 3 assists. While that was enough to lead the team, he still struggled to find success against the shutdown pairing of Chara and Seidenberg. In this series, Ovechkin will find himself seeing a lot of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh. Not to take anything away from the quality defense those 2 have provided, but they are not quite the same as what Ovechkin was looking at. He should be able to find some more space against them.
On the other side of things, the Rangers cannot be happy with the lowly 1 goal that Marian Gaborik put up in the first round. He and his linemates (Brad Richards and Carl Hagelin) should see a lot of Karl Alzner and John Carlson, who were effective at shutting down the top trio of the Bruins. Karl Alzner may not be Erik Karlsson, but I can assure you that Gaborik will have to work just as hard for his space. The bigger problems for the Caps begin to appear when Dennis Wideman and Jeff Schultz will have to shut down grinders for the Rangers. The Rangers may be without Brian Boyle for a while, but Brandon Prust and Brandon Dubinsky are more than capable of finding success of Dennis Wideman. Dennis Wideman found himself on the ice for 8 of the Bruins’ 14 goals, so I can guarantee that John Tortorella will be trying to make this trend continue. Dennis Wideman could very well be the best player for the Rangers in this series.
Without a doubt, a lot of the spotlight will find itself on the two goaltenders. Henrik Lundqvist has been as steady as she goes over the past 5 years, but he has never made it past the second round. In the previous 2 series against the Capitals, Lundqvist has not been a series stealer many expect he could be. The key for Lundqvist has to be the success of his glove hand. He has to know the Caps will be shooting their heavily.
On the other side, we have rookie sensation Braden Holtby. What I thought was going to be the biggest question mark for the Capitals turned into the driving force behind their upset of the Bruins. Everybody knew that that Bruins were going to throw everything they had (both pucks and bodies) at him and he stood firm. He should expect even more from the Rangers. Yes, the Capitals will continue to block a ton of shots, but I am led to believe that the Bruins are going to keep somebody in his grill the whole time. Holtby has proven that he can keep his focus in spite of bodies all around him, but his decision making has to be better. As good as he was, he could have been a lot better had he just fine tuned a couple of thing. It is generally understood that he was quite a bit off his angle for Chris Kelly’s Game 1 OT winner, and his tendency to snap his glove cost him on a couple of occasions. Despite his great run in the first round, I still have him as the biggest question mark for the Caps.
To be completely honest, this was the match-up I did not want. The Caps may be looking to pull off another upset, but the Ranger will certainly be remembering the previous series these two have played over the past couple of years. While I think the Capitals have proven they aren’t going to roll over, I never like playing a team that is playing for payback. The Rangers might not have played extremely well against the Senators, but they should have no problem waking up for these games. The Caps proved a lot in the first round, but I still have trouble believing they have changed their ways for good. They are going to play their heart out, but I still believe they will have too many costly hiccups. My gut says Rangers in 7.
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Welcome to the home of the F Street Faithful, run by Matthew Tate. This is a go-to blog for all things related to the Washington Capitals. The F Street Faithful is 5% news and 95% breaking down the news.
In the past I have written for several other sports blogs as well as the college newspaper while at York College of Pennsylvania. I am a graduate of York College of Pennsylvania but am based out of Southern Maryland.
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