Marian Gaborik

Game On Tonight!

Game one of the Eastern Conference Quarter Finals kicks off the tonight – 7:30pm Versus/MSG – with the Rangers happy to be back in the post season. They’ll also perhaps be looking for redemption for a 3-4 come from ahead series loss in 2009, which saw the Rangers fail to win any of the last three games.

The Blueshirts did at least get some modicum of retribution during the regular season, winning the series 3-1 including 7-0 and 6-0 shutouts of the vaunted Caps offense and their leader Alexander Ovechkin.

But as I mentioned a couple of days ago, this isn’t the same Caps team that so easily capitulated to the Rangers back in February. Since that 6-0 loss, the Caps have been one of the hottest teams in the league, tightening up their defense significantly on their way to the Eastern Conference title.

In fact, this is a Caps team that is surprisingly different in many ways from what we’re used to seeing. Their power play during the regular season ranked just 16th in the league – two spots above the Rangers – and their penalty kill finished 2nd overall. To put things in perspective, last season they were first overall on the power play, and a mediocre 25th when down a man or two.

And it’s not just the special teams that have changed. After running away with easily the best offense in hockey last season, the Caps place a much more modest 19th this year. Their defense has gone from 16th, to 4th in the league.

Credit a change in philosophy by Caps head coach Bruce Boudreau, and a commitment to his team to work through their differences and focus on both ends of the ice. And after struggling earlier in the season, it looks like they’ve finally figured it out – much to the Rangers chagrin.

Certainly it’s not good news. The Blueshirts have struggled all season with teams who clog the slot, lacking the offensive creativity and confidence to get defensive players moving and open up shooting lanes. Anecdotally at least, it seems they also have amongst the fewest goals deflected off of point shots.

Part of the problem of course has been the inability to find a credible shot from the blueliners. Bryan McCabe was brought in, but his defensive liabilities have limited his time at even strength. None of the rest of the blueline really will scare anyone with their shooting options.

The key for the Rangers in this series will likely be their ability to establish a lead and expand it. Except for a handful of games, the Rangers have not done well scoring that 2nd, 3rd or 4th goal. The first goal of the game was once a good indicator of who’d win the game, but the Rangers were ranked just 18th in the league – wining 68.3 percent of their games – in win percentage when scoring first.

By contrast they did manage to comeback more than most, winning 39 percent of their games when they trailed first, good for 10th in the league. They also finished the season a perfect 29-0 when leading going into the third period, and trailed Dallas by just one win – Rangers with 8 wins – for comeback wins in the third.

For the Capitals, the only injury of note is Dennis Wideman, who is out for the series. Defenseman Mike Green – who was knocked out of the game by Derek Stepan in the 6-0 loss back in February – is set to return for tonight’s game, and Alexander Semin returned to the line-up in the season finale 1-0 loss to the Panthers.

The story is – and has been all season – a bit different for the Rangers. Chris Drury helped to inspire his team with a surprise return in game #82, but Ryan Callahan and Martin Biron are unlikely to feature in this series, while Alexander Frolov and Derek Boogaard have long been considered out of contention.

Losing Callahan particularly is a problem, because of the energy he provides and the ability to play in all situations. He is also tied with Sean Avery off of the current roster – for the most post season goals in a Rangers uniform.

It’s also not certain that Sean Avery will be in the line-up tonight, though the Rangers’ active post season points leader has shown his ability to turn a game by getting into the heads of the opposition. It appears at this stage that he’ll join Steve Eminger on the sidelines for Game 1.

If there’s one player – aside from Henrik Lundqvist – who could be a difference, it’d be Marian Gaborik. The Rangers’ leading goal scorer last season, has struggled with his confidence and injuries, and appears to be well off his game. Gaborik finished the season with just 22 goals, down from last year’s 42. Only seven of those goals came on the road.

Speaking of road games, only three teams picked up more than the 24 wins that the Rangers recorded on the road this season – Vancouver, Detroit and Philadelphia. By contrast, the Capitals trailed just Vancouver and Anaheim in home wins, with 25.

In many regards this is as series that perhaps is much more evenly matched than you might be expected to believe. The Caps traditionally have had more offensive firepower, yet the Rangers outscored them this year. The special teams were pretty comparable during the regular season, and scoring and defense surprisingly too.

The Rangers have proven they can beat teams like Vancouver, Philadelphia, Boston and the Capitals, but they have less room for error. The Capitals have the ability to ramp up their game if they’re trailing, and it’s less certain the Rangers can.

This could be a very tight series, and it would not surprise to see a couple of games go to OT, or at the very least be decided by just a goal.

Chris Drury is 8-0 in Game #1 of a playoff series. 2-0 with the Rangers.

GAME ON!

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x