Monday, April 11, 2011

Peepin' Foes, PLAYOFF EDITION: Washington Capitals

There is quite a bit that can be covered with this upcoming series against the Capitals but here is a quick peep at our foes ...

When Do We Play:
Game 1: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. at Washington
Game 2: Friday, 7:30 p.m. at Washington
Game 3: Sunday, 3 p.m. at MSG
Game 4: April 20, 7 p.m. at MSG
*Game 5: April 23, 3 p.m. at Washington
*Game 6: April 25, TBD at MSG
* Game 7: April 27, TBD at Washington
* - if necessary

Where We Are: In the playoffs, can you believe it? The Rangers didn't exactly back in to the playoff spot but they didn't exactly show they wanted it until the very end.

Where They Are: Washington finished first in the East, topping Philly by one point despite losing their last game. Of course, that was a lonely loss; the Capitals went 7-2-1 over their last 10 games and 16-3-1 in their last 20.

What Happened This Season: The Rangers won three of four, absolutely destroying DC in two of them. The season series opened with a 5-3 Caps win on November 9th at the Garden that included Derek Boogaard's goal. Then the Blueshirts demolished Ovie and company 7-0 on December 12th at the Garden in front of HBO's 24/7 cameras. The series moved to DC on January 24th and the Rangers prevailed 2-1 in a shootout at the Phone Booth with Arty netting the decider in the battle of backup goalies (Biron vs. Holtby). The fourth and final game was on February 25th and the Rangers scored a touchdown, winning 6-0 thanks to Mr. Softie Christensen (two goals and two assists). That was also notable because Derek Stepan took out Mike Green who has yet to return to the Caps lineup.

What Happened Past Seasons: Frankly, let's not discuss John F-ing Druce again. Instead let's rehash the disappointment that was the spring of 2009. Up 3-1 in the series John Tortorella singlehandedly lost it for the Rangers. At the end of Game 4 the coach put Sean Avery - back then a rabid dog of a player - on the ice in the final minutes of the one-goal game and was pinched for a high stick. The penalty was killed and the was won but the coach knee jerked and ripped Avery from the lineup, citing discipline. Without their sparkplug the Rangers fell flat in Game 5 and lost 4-0. The coach lost his discipline and acted like an ass to some fans ... and was suspended for Game 6 because of it. Game 6 was one of the most painful games I have ever been to as Tom Poti had a goal and three assists as the No. 1 star. The Rangers season came to an unfortunate end despite perhaps Avery's best-ever performance as a Ranger in Game 7. Wade Redden deftly deflected Sergei Fedorov's shot past Hank for the lone goal of the game and that was it. (For my original recaps, just check out April 2009.

Who To Watch For: Well, that Ovechkin guy is pretty famous. Ovie averaged better than a point per game and yet he had his worst campaign to date with just 85 points (31 more than Rangers leading scorer Brandon Dubinsky). Nick Backstrom was similarly "disappointing" with just 65 points. Jason Arnott put up seven points in 11 games since being dealt off of the Devils' sinking ship and his veteran presence - like that of Mike Knuble - is sure to be extra big in the postseason. The Rangers being the Rangers and the playoffs being the playoffs, also keep an eye on Matt Hendricks, Matt Bradley and Jason Chimera because those grit guys always end up being big in battles. My boy Poti is out with injury and unlikely to play to the best of my knowledge. Green was supposed to come back for the last game against the Panthers but didn't so we will have to watch his status. Even without the two of them DC's blueline has been capable thanks to John Carlson and John Erskine and they added reinforcements in former Bruin Dennis Wideman and past-his-prime Scott Hannan. The Rangers are apparently getting lucky because Washington's best goaltender is actually in the minors. Holtby is in Hershey while Neuvirth has earned the starting job over Varlamov.

What To Watch For: Washington to come out angry, seeking revenge for the beatings laid on them by the Blueshirts this season. The Rangers inconsistencies rearing their ugly heads. Staal vs. Ovechkin. Sauer and Dubi have both fought twice against the Caps this campaign but the likelihood of fisticuffs is quite lower in the playoffs; should it happen, it would more likely be Prust taking on Matt Hendricks or DJ King (if King even dresses). The Rangers attempt to push the puck past Alex Semin. Semin may be a good scorer but his discipline is lacking - he had 71 PIM this year in 65 games and 18 of them were on hooking calls.

Also Check Out: The Caps have a really strong blogosphere but, frankly, I just head to Japer's Rink for all my info. Eric McErlain hasn't posted in a while at Offwing but On Frozen Blog is still going strong. The WaPo has a blog for those that still support MSM.


Caps Nut said...

The fact that you mention D.J King is hurting this post. He wouldnt dress if he was the last forward healthy.

Rangers are a way better team...not sure why we are even going to play.

MikeL-Caps said...

Nice assessment... and no, talking about John Druce in 1990 or the series in 1991 and 1994 are pretty well irrelevant.

2009 was a different beast though, and yes the Rangers had a 3-1 lead and lost, but the reason they lost was not because of Avery and his antics, it was because King Henrik couldn't steal the entire series from the Caps wihtout help. Remember, in the course of getting a 3-1 lead, the Rangers scored a total of 7 goals. The Rangers scored a total of 11 goals in that series, and over 7 games, that's not going to win very many. The MVP of that series was clearly Lundqvist.

The Rangers were shut out twice and scored only 1 goal twice. That they were 1-3 in those games was courtesy of King Henrik.

As for this series... obviously the Rangers go in with an edge in net. Varly and Neuvy are good, but Lundqvist should be getting a Vezina nomination this spring (I don't think he wins, but he should be a finalist). The Caps will have to figure out a way to get more pucks past him than they did in the season. They also can't get into death spirals like they did in the two blow-outs.

As for the defense. Green and Poti might both be ready. Part of the reason they remained on LTIR was due to salary cap issues, in that the Caps put them there to make sure they had room for Wideman (who is out for this round, and probably until training camp... that was one ugly injury!) The match-up on the back line is pretty even, even if Green is 90% or even 80%. John Carlson will get some consideration as rookie of the year this year, and Alzner and Hannan are very steady performers. Schultz hasn't been the big plus maker this season, but he still has been very good. If either Poti or Green can't go, Erskine can provide some grit in back.

Up front, the Caps are healthy and the Rangers are hurting, and this is where the Caps have the edge. Despite having an off year, Ovechkin finished 7th in scoring in the league and was +24 letting him lead the top 10 in +/- in scoring for anyone not named Sedin (no surprise there...) Backstrom is starting to be more consistent, Knuble and Laich are playing their best hockey right now, and Arnott seems to be determined to win a Cup this year to the point of getting in peoples' faces if they don't carry their weight (Exhibit A - Alexander Semin).

The biggest blow, and worst blow to the Rangers' chances was losing Callahan. The guy is the best 2-way forward the Rangers have and is arguably the best in the Atlantic Division (Mike Richards is probably better, but after that....) Not having him will make life difficult for the Rangers to match up with Ovie, Backstrom and Knuble. Marc Staal can only do so much (and let's not forget how Semin can handle him... ;-D hee hee!)

Still it should be great hockey. The main storyline will be if Lundqvist can steal enough games to win the series. The Caps last year showed they could be beat by a goaltender stealing games (they fired 50 shots at Halak in Game 6, and lost).

Caps Nut said...

The Caps are as pissed off and angry as any team in the playoffs...and Mr. Ovie leads that charge....

Derek B Felix said...

We should be the angry team. We lost to them 2 years ago in epic fashion. Seven guys experienced it plus the coach. The longer it goes, the better our chances.

The Likely Lad said...

Federov's goal made it 2-1 Caps. Rangers took lead in that game when Nikky Antropov stuffed home the garbage right on top of Varlamov. The tying goal was brutal. Re-directed in off a Ranger forward... though I forget who.