With just one day off between their first round series win over Ottawa and their second round series with Washington, the Rangers are not what we would call well rested. The Caps beat the Bruins in their own Game Seven the previous night, so there’s not much of an advantage there when it comes to rest between rounds. Although the Caps have won every post-lockout playoff series against the Rangers, these are not those Rangers, and these are not those Capitals. The roles are reversed, as the Rangers are the ones with home ice advantage and the top seed this time around.
The Rangers actually scored more goals than the Caps during the regular season. Yes, it’s true. The Rangers scored four more goal (226 to 222) than the Caps this year. So those that are automatically assuming the Caps have the advantage on offense need to take a step back. Yes, the Caps have the talent in Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, Mike Green, Nik Backstrom, and others. While the Rangers counter with their own skill players in Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik, Michael Del Zotto, and Carl Hagelin, the names just don’t match up. In the playoffs, the Caps are averaging 2.29 goals per game
The difference is the system. The Rangers play their forechecking, grinding, and cycling system that gets goals from the guys who aren’t necessarily skill guys. Systems and teamwork mean more than raw skill sometimes. In the playoffs, the Rangers are averaging 2.00 goals per game.
Advantage: Caps, although not as big of an advantage as prior years.
The Capitals ran a poorly executed 2-1-2 forechecking system under Bruce, then they switched to a poorly executed 1-2-2 hybrid trap prior to his firing. Now Dale has them playing a tighter 1-2-2 forecheck. The result is a more passive, contain-type approach, especially in the defensive zone. They’ll still push the envelope with a 2-1-2 in spurts, but they are not the run-and-gun team we saw back in ’09.
With that said, the Capitals defensemen are very mobile and they still tend to think offense-first at the wrong times. As a result, the Rangers will get their opportunities to convert when those guys get caught up ice. There just might not be as many of those opportunities in this series as there have been between these two teams in the past.
The Caps are the only team remaining in the playoffs that have a negative goal differential (-8). They are also the team that allowed the most goals in the regular season (230) that is still in the playoffs. In short, they don’t really play defense that well. Their forwards are often caught lagging behind on the back check, and their defense simply doesn’t bail them out. They have allowed 2.14 goals per game this postseason.
The Rangers, on the other hand, are one of the top defensive teams in the league. The Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal trio is one of the deadliest shutdown trios in hockey. In fact, they could be the most dominant shutdown trio in the game today. Look what they did against Ottawa and Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek, and Erik Karlsson.They allowed just 1.86 goals per game in that series.
Braden Holtby is the Caps best goaltender. He was their stud prospect, and now he is getting a taste of the show. He shut down the Bruins, who are essentially the same team as the Rangers when you think about it. Holtby is the reason why the Rangers should be scared about this matchup.
As for the Rangers, well…Henrik Lundqvist.
Advantage: Rangers, but Holtby is scary.
In the playoffs, the powerplay for both teams is actually clicking at the same conversion percentage. The Caps clearly have more skill than the Rangers with the man advantage, but that only amounts to a .2% advantage in actual conversion (15.8% for the Caps, 15.6% for the Rangers) in the playoffs. For the Caps, it’s about that skill showing they can convert on the powerplay. Ovechkin has not scored on the powerplay yet.
The Capitals run the same umbrella setup as the Rangers and although their stats are similar, the Caps look like they have more flow to their power play. I think the Rangers have a tendency collapse to the net on the PK and I’d like to see them take some chances in this series. They should target specific pointmen and pressure them to get rid of the puck.
Back to Dave…
As for the Rangers, their 15.6% conversion ratio is about average with what they showed during the regular season. The difference is that Anton Stralman leads the team in powerplay goals right now with two. Brad Richards is starting to show why he’s such a force with the man advantage, as he leads both teams in PPP with four (1-3-4).
Advantage: Even. Weird to say that, but the Caps aren’t converting.
While the Caps may be struggling a bit on the powerplay, they sure are excelling on the penalty kill with a 91.3% kill ratio. That likely has a lot to do with the fact that the Bruins powerplay is actually worse than the Rangers, but killing penalties is killing penalties. Holtby is playing a big role in that as well.
The Rangers penalty kill did a good job in shutting down Karlsson, but still succeeded just 84.6% of the time, almost 7% less than the surprising Caps penalty kill. The Rangers still hold the advantage with Lundqvist in net, but it’s not as big of an advantage as you might think right now.
Advantage: Rangers, but very slightly. Lundqvist is the main reason for the advantage.
Dale Hunter has a lot of player experience when it comes to the playoffs, but not much coaching experience. But taking out the Bruins, at home, in a Game Seven means a lot. The team appears to be behind him, at least more than they were behind Bruce Boudreau. With a more conservative “system” in place other than just “putting the puck in the net”, it’s tough to say that Hunter has a real advantage here.
John Tortorella has a Cup, and he has this team willing to run through a brick wall for them. If 24/7 taught us anything, it’s that Tortorella is under appreciated as a coach here in New York.
The Caps have an unknown rookie goaltender who is on a hot streak. Goalies on hot streaks can steal a series or two. Holtby stole the Bruins series, and he’s fully capable of stealing another one against a team that is very similar to the Bruins. But when it comes to leadership, you have to question whether Ovechkin as a captain has been working. That’s no slight against Ovechkin, but he’s no Ryan Callahan or Brad Richards when it comes to getting a team to play the right way. What they might lack in leadership they definitely make up for in playoff experience. Joel Ward and Troy Brouwer were nice pickups.
As for the Rangers, the biggest thing they have over the Caps is leadership with Cally, Richards, Mike Rupp, and a slew of others that lead by example. They also have their own goaltender that can steal a series, and nearly did against these Capitals a couple years ago. There are also very few Caps that can match the speed of rookies Chris Kreider and Carl Hagelin.
Rangers in 5.