By Joe Dyton
Two games may be a small sample size, but it appears the difference in the Rangers-Caps series is going to be which team can avoid making the crucial mistake.
Throw the seedings out the window, these teams are evenly matched. The Caps have more offensive firepower, but some of that is negated by the Rangers’ solid team defense and Vezina and Hart trophy nominated goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Since both teams have decided to play the same low-risk, defensive style, each game is going to come down to power play effectiveness and avoiding costly mistakes.
Take Game One where Mike Green’s ill-advised line change led to Chris Kreider’s game-winning goal. That brief mental lapse swung the momentum in the Rangers’ favor and the Caps never recovered.
On Monday night, the trended continued in Game Two, but it was the Rangers’ miscues that helped the Caps even the series. A turnover led to a 3-on-2 for Washington that resulted in the game’s first goal. Lundqvist inexplicably tried to play the puck behind the net with the Caps rushing in. Let your “D” men get that puck, Hank! Two-zip, Caps.
Despite the Rangers’ comedy of errors, they were still somehow tied at two with the Caps midway through the third period. Their most costly mistake off call came when Brad Richards took a penalty just 36 seconds after the Rangers had just killed one off. I know some people felt the holding call was marginal, but at that stage of the game, a player can’t give the ref any reason to raise his hand. The Caps’ power play had been unimpressive to that point, but with all the skill players they have, it was inevitable they’d cash in eventually. Sure enough, before Richards could get comfortable in the penalty box, Alex Ovechkin rifled one past Lundqvist.
As the series moves on to Washington, I don’t see either team changing their strategies too much, especially the Caps who were able to steal home ice. Prepare for more low shot totals, a lot of blocked shots, a clogged neutral zone and hopefully less mistakes.
A few other thoughts…
*A bad game for Lundqvist? I don’t like to always like to look at the goal total when judging a goalie’s performance. I’m more interested in how each goal was scored. Last night, the Caps’ first goal was a tic-tac-toe assault finished off by Mike Knuble. I’d hardly put that on The King. Same goes for Ovie’s game-winner. The last things you want to give Ovechkin are time and space and he had both when he ripped that shot past Lundqvist. The only goal I’d put on him was the second when he gave the puck away. Bad decision, yes. Bad game, not really.
*Have the power play units broken through?: I was exchanging texts with my Caps-fan buddy Mike and whenever one of our teams had the man-advantage, we hardly got excited. Could you blame us? After all, both teams started the series 0-for-6. Then wouldn’t you know…
Mike (after Knuble’s penalty): “I’m scared.”
Me: “Like the Caps’ PP, the Rangers’ is bad.”
Ryan Callahan scores on a deflection. Two-all.
I almost fell out of my chair when Callahan tied the game. Mike texted me, “God (the Caps’) PP sucks,” just a few minutes before Ovie scored. We tried to figure out if the Rangers and Caps’ penalty kill units were really that great, or if the power play units were underachieving. Ultimately, we decided both teams are very good at killing penalties, but the power plays are so-so. I’ve actually accepted the fact that Rangers power play isn’t effective, but I’m surprised the Caps have been unable to get it going. I think both teams pass way too much to find the perfect shot. By time they get that perfect shot, 45 seconds of the power play has expired. We’ll see if either team tries a new strategy going forward.
*Missing, Marian Gaborik, last seen New York, NY, Game One, Eastern Conference seminfinals: Where has the Great Gabby gone? I know he set up Richards on the goal on Monday, but this guy scored 41 goals this season! The Rangers need him to find the back of the net if they’re going to win this series. They don’t have enough weapons to get by another round without him. I saw on Twitter today some people wondered if he’s nursing an injury, but it not like he’s skating poorly or anything. I just think he’s been kept in check.
That’s it for Game Two. As a Ranger fan, I’d love to see them take both in DC, but I think that’s unlikely. A split is fine, just as long as they win Game Three so I can watch Game Four pressure-free. Ah forget it, take ‘em both boys!
Joe Dyton is a marketing copywriter in Washington, DC and a freelance sports reporter for the Frederick News-Post in Frederick, MD. He is a former assistant editor for The Dealmakers real estate magazine in Hamilton, NJ and a former sports writer and copy editor for The Trentonian in Trenton, NJ. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Joe on Twitter at http://twitter.com/dyton99.