Capitals and Rangers, Series Preview
Game 1 of the NHL playoff series between 2nd seed Washington Capitals and 7th seed New York Rangers kicks off tonight at 7PM at the Verizon Center. The Caps and Rangers have met 4 times this season, Caps prevailing 3 of the 4.
In case you missed our super stat comparison table between the Caps and Rangers, here you go.
There has been a ton of attention give to Jose Theodore, rightfully so. Tarik and Mike Wise from the Washington Post wrote the first article on Theo being the key, then all other sources piled on, including ESPN. This is a no-brainer as well. When Theo is on his game, the Caps are good, real good. When he is not, look out. We will know in about 10 hours.
But to me, there are a few more critical keys for the Caps:
1. Brooks Laich. Why? Laich has become the go to man for the Caps as far as the in front of the net guy. Laich's presence and traffic he creates in front of the net has resulted in several goals this season and many against super tough goalies. In fact, at times, this is the premier way to score on some of the better goalies in the NHL. Henrik Lundqvist is one of the better goalies in the NHL, hence, Laich's importance.
2. Caps Power Play/Rangers Penalty Kill: Here is the big battle of this series. Why? The Caps come into this series with the 2nd best power play in the NHL, an impressive 25.2% conversion. That means the Caps should dominate on the power play. Wrong. The Rangers sport the best penalty kill in the NHL with an 87.8% success percentage. There is your paramount battle. If the Caps can execute the power play against the Rangers, that could set the tone. During the 4 games in the regular season between the two clubs, the Caps were 4 for 15 or 26.7%, better than their 2nd best season percentage. If they can do that, the Caps will be set.
3. Redemption: The Caps remarkable yet seemingly improbable run (as of Thanksgiving of 2008, seemingly very improbable) that landed this very young franchise in the playoffs were exited in the first round by the Philadelphia Flyers. It gave the young Caps their first taste of NHL playoffs. It also made this team that much more hungry this season. The Caps will be seeking redemption and to prove to many out there that say they are still a bit too young for a deep playoff run, that indeed they are ready for the big time. Don't underestimate strong feelings like the feeling of redemption. It can be a huge motivator.
The Washington Capitals have scored 268 goals this season, good enough for 3rd most in the NHL. Scoring is not an issue with this team. On the other hand, the Rangers have struggled at times putting the puck in the net and finished with 200 goals, 3rd worst in the NHL. Rangers do not have a single player over 30 goal mark. Caps have three (Ovechkin, Green, and Semin). Rangers have NO players over the 60 point mark, Caps have 4 (Ovechkin, Backstrom, Semin, and Green). There is no question who has more fire power. The question on point is --- can the Caps firing squad get the puck past Henrik Lundqvist.
Given the lack of fire power on the Rangers offense, how did they make it to the playoffs? Goaltending and defense. They are clearly a defense-focused team. They have allowed 2.58 goals per game, 6th best in the NHL. The Caps have allowed 2.93, 19th best in the NHL. Since the Rangers play better in a slower paced game and the Caps excel playing up tempo style, the Rangers defense will be charged with slowing the speed and intensity of the Caps offense. If they do it, they stand a good shot. If not, the series will be over quickly. There is no way the Rangers are going to play the Caps upbeat tempo style, voluntarily I should say, and John Tortorella will look to his defense to slow these Caps down. Caps are bigger, but size doesn't always win out.
Advantage: NEW YORK
The Caps sport the 3rd best power play in the NHL. But, the Rangers bring in the best overall penalty kill in the NHL. Here is the game feature that can set the tone for the series. Who prevails here? The Caps penalty kill unit sits near the middle of the NHL at 17th. But, they don't have to fear the Rangers power play too much because it is the second weakest in the NHL with only a 13.9% success rate.
Just compare the numbers for this one. Theo has a 2.87 GAA, Lundqvist has a 2.42 GAA. Theodore has a save percentage of .900, Lundqvist is impressive at .916. Lundqvist is considered one of the best in the NHL. Theodore is streaky and can rise to exceptional runs. The question here is, which Theodore shows up? If you are a bit scared of Lundqvist, just remember, the Capitals won the season series 3 games to 1, meaning, they beat Lundqvist 75% of the time this year.
Advantage: NEW YORK
Series Prediction: CAPS WIN IN 5