Washington Capitals: Uh Oh, It’s the Rangers
Out of all the teams the Capitals could have faced in the first round of the playoffs going into the last couple of weeks of the regular season, the New York Rangers looked possibly the most daunting. Perhaps the Montreal Canadiens, who downed the Caps in the first round last year, would have been worse, but other than that the Rangers may be the worst opponent. Why?
The Capitals two worst losses this season have both come against the Blueshirts. The Rangers beat Washington 7-0 whilst it was in the middle of a season-worst 8 game losing streak. So that was a bad time to play New York. Most worrying, though, was the 6-0 rout the Capitals suffered at the hands of the Rangers in late February. The loss came after two consecutive wins for Washington, over the course of which they had only allowed one goal; and immediately after the Caps went on their 9-game winning streak. And some will put it down as an anomaly. However the game, at Verizon Center, came at one of the best times for the Caps, in contrast with the previous hammering which was one of the worst times, but still the Rangers smashed through the Caps’ improved defense and still closed the door on them. It’s that inconsistency from the Caps against this opponent – that even in good form, they could suffer a big loss – that is worrying.
What about the other two games between the two this season? The first is a more promising sign for the team in red – Washington ran out 5-3 winners. Secondary scoring pulled the Caps through and continued what became a 6-game winning streak. The other game, like the 6-0 loss, came after two wins for the Caps, and this time the defense stayed good, as it was just a 2-1 shootout loss. However, troubling about this was, again, the lack of offense from Washington. Looking on the brighter side, the Caps have managed 5 goals in one game against the Rangers. But that game came towards the start of the season, when the Caps were still holding on partly to their explosively offensive style. The two later games came after the team had fully transitioned to the new, more defensive system. And whilst the 6 goals conceded in one game is worrying, perhaps equally worrying is the only one goal scored across the two later games (ignoring the 7-0 rout which came at a time when seemingly all teams were beating up on the Caps). The defensive style has hindered the Caps’ offense, but against the Rangers especially Washington needs to get goals; because New York will score.
Fortunately for Washington, the offensive lineup is looking very good now, with no injuries reported. The top line of Ovechkin-Backstrom-Knuble has started to show some form and productivity that looked so good last year, whilst there is now great depth – Sturm and Laich along with Ovi on left wing, Arnott and Johansson down the middle, and Semin and Fehr/Chimera on the right wing, with a solid impact fourth line too – so even if Ovechkin and co. are once again stoned by Mark Staal and Dan Girardi, there is still plenty of hope for Caps fans.
Defensively, it looks like Neuvirth will be starting out as number one in net, though Varlamov will probably get a chance to prove himself at some point. Mike Green’s anticipated return will be a huge, huge relief for the blue line, especially with Dennis Wideman out for the series. The Capitals’ defense will need to be on top form to keep the Rangers at bay, and the offense must be better than they were in last year’s short postseason, but the Caps should take the series – though it will be close.