Rangers hold massive edge against Capitals in this key area for 1st-round playoff series

NHL: Washington Capitals at New York Rangers
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s be honest. The New York Rangers are going be heavy favorites in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Washington Capitals.

The Rangers were the best team in the 2023-24 NHL regular season, winning their fourth Presidents’ Trophy and establishing franchise records for most wins (55) and points (114). They finished 23 points ahead of the Capitals, who were the final team to clinch a playoff berth this season.

In fact, the Capitals had a dose of good fortune to even qualify for the postseason when they edged a desperate Philadelphia Flyers squad 2-1 on an empty-net goal Tuesday, Flyers coach John Tortorella having pulled goalie Samuel Ersson for an extra attacker because they needed a regulation win to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.

That said, the Capitals did earn their way in, coming from way behind in the standings, surviving a ghastly 0-4-2 stretch in late-March and early-April to win four of their final five games and edge out the Detroit Red Wings, Pittsburgh Penguins and Flyers.

Washington and New York split their regular-season series, each winning twice on home ice. And the Capitals are a threat now that Alex Ovechkin again found his scoring touch and goalie Charlie Lindgren — yes, Ryan’s brother — has performed heroically to get them to this point.

It wouldn’t be the first time a star player and red-hot goalie pulled off a major upset in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and that’s what the Capitals will be, in part, banking on against the Rangers.

Yet, the Rangers are deeper and simply the better team. So, they’re the favorites in this series.

One specific area highlights the divide between the teams.

Related: Rangers need these 3 players to find new level in playoffs

Rangers hold massive edge against Capitals in this key area ahead of 1st-round series

NHL: New York Rangers at Washington Capitals
Credit: Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

The Rangers have been among the top of the League all season in two (obviously) important categories. They have scored the sixth-most goals in the NHL (278) and allowed the seventh fewest (226).

For those scoring at home, that’s a whopping +52 goal differential. Pretty, pretty good.

The Capitals on then other hand are 28th in goals for (216) and 17th in goals against (252).

That is a dismal -36 goal differential. Not so good.

In fact, the New York Islanders (-18) are the only other team of the 16 who qualified for the postseason with a negative goal differential. Taking it a step further, only five teams in the entire League have a worse goal differential than the Capitals, the three at the bottom of the Western Conference (San Jose Sharks, Chicago Blackhawks, Anaheim Ducks) and the bottom two in the Eastern Conference (Columbus Blue Jackets, Montreal Canadiens).

The Capitals were outscored in every period this season — 79-64 in the first period, 85-80 in the second, 82-68 in the third and 6-4 in overtime.

The biggest issue for Washington is that it doesn’t score nearly enough. The Capitals are OK defensively, with Lindgren (2.67 goals-against average, . 911 save percentage in 50 games) a huge asset in goal. But the Capitals don’t score nearly enough and have very little depth offensively.

Ovechkin led them with 31 goals and only Dylan Strome (27) and Anthony Mantha (20) also reached the 20-goal mark this season. Just three Capitals players — Strome, Ovechkin and John Carlson — topped 50 points. Only six reached 30 points. Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom no longer are on the roster.

Compare that to the Rangers, who’s top scorer — Artemi Panarin (120 points) — nearly equaled the combined total of the Capitals two leading scorers — Strome and Ovechkin (132). New York also had six players top 50 points (five of whom reached 70) and five score 20 or more goals.

Add in that the Rangers have a former Vezina Trophy-winning goalie with Igor Shesterkin and deep, talented defense corps, and it would appear the Capitals are going to have to find a way to win low-scoring games to have a chance in this series.

Jim Cerny is Executive Editor at Forever Blueshirts and Managing Editor at Sportsnaut, with more than 30 years of... More about Jim Cerny

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