FullTilt Breakdown: Rangers vs. Capitals Rd 2
The Rangers and Capitals meet once again, this time in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. In our 1st round breakdown we pointed out that the Capitals and Islanders were likely to play a long and hard fought series which turned out to last 7 games. We also noted that if the Blueshirts wanted to be considered legit Cup contenders, dispatching a lesser opponent quickly was needed. Mission accomplished as they beat Pittsburgh in 5.
Now both teams face-off in round 2 and it’s going to be a battle of size versus skill. The Washington Capitals weigh in as the heaviest team in the league and like to hit everything they see. The Rangers are a fast and quick transition team that could exploit the Caps if they get out of position to lay the body.
Let’s breakdown this matchup further.
Henrik Lundqvist and Marc-Andre Fleury had a goaltenders duel in round one with Lundqvist coming out on top. In fairness to Fleury, he was equal to the task and if not for the Penguins depleted blue-line could have won another game or two.
Braden Holtby was also tested against the Islanders and faired well for the most part. Holtby let in a few bad ones during the series, most notable a game 7 gaffe that could’ve cost them advancing. It was a shot he tried to play into the corner that he whiffed on and squeaked through his pads.
Here are their first round stats:
Lundqvist: 4W – 1L, 1.54 GAA, .939 SV%
Holtby: 3W – 3L, 1.63 GAA, .943SV%
While there is no doubt Holtby was solid, he is prone to making more mistakes than Lundqvist. Add in the factor of the Rangers elite defense and the return of Kevin Klein and this is a clear advantage for the Blueshirts.
Edge – Rangers
Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov are the names you will hear the analysts talk about. As they should be because Ovi scored twice and Backstrom and Kuznetsov scored 3 times in round 1. They were also a combined -5, with only Kuznetsov holding an even rating.
After that the Capitals offense up front relies on Joel Ward, Jason Chimera and Marcus Johansson to provide secondary scoring. They primarily use their size to create turnovers or cause screens and chaos in front. Expect the Rangers to contain the Caps bigger guns and have more trouble with Ward and Chimera then you’d expect.
As for the Rangers who finished 3rd in the league in goals for they were bottled up by a Pittsburgh team committed to slowing them down in the neutral zone and brilliant goaltending by Marc-Andre Fleury. I don’t expect the Caps to play that way, meaning more open ice for the Rangers.
Unlike the Caps, the Rangers top point producers Derick Brassard and Rick Nash (tied with 4 pts.) were plus players (combined +5). In addition, they spread their scoring around as 10 of their 12 forwards registered points in the 1st round (Caps had 8 forwards score points).
The Rangers can score three lines deep and their depth is one of the best in the NHL. Even with Mats Zuccarello out, this affords an opportunity for Jesper Fast to show the world his talents. If not for Alex Ovechkin, I’d say the Rangers have a big advantage, but number 8 is one of the best in the world so it just makes it a bit closer.
Slight Edge – Rangers
The Capitals defense was ranked 7th in the NHL this season. Do not adjust your eyes, that is true. This is thanks to Barry Trotz and a full team commitment to playing better in their own end. To me, they are the wild card in this series.
John Carlson had 4 points to lead all Caps blue-liners while 5 out of the 6 defenders registered at least one point. Matt Niskanen had 3 assists and Mike Green was eerily quiet with only 2 helpers. As a unit they combined for 13 points and had an even rating in round 1.
NY’s defense is getting a huge bump with the return of Kevin Klein. Not so much for his defense but his his blistering shot from the point that Lundqvist called one of the heaviest he’s ever faced.
Ryan McDonagh led the Rangers backline with 4 points in 5 games, while his partner Dan Girardi was huge in the big play department at both ends of the ice. Girardi made a game saving clear late in game 4 and had 3 assists for the series.
As a unit, the Rangers registered 12 points, 1 less than the Caps but in 2 fewer games. They also combined to be a +3 for the series. Expect them to be even better offensively with the return of Klein. I also expect a huge series from Keith Yandle who should benefit from the long rest as he was dealing with some aches and pains.
Edge – Rangers
If this was the regular season, the edge would go to the Capitals easily. Washington’s power play ranked tops in the league for the year, but the Islanders showed everyone that the key to defending the Caps power play is to cheat towards Ovechkin and not allow him to blast from his favorite spot, the left circle.
Ready for this…the Rangers scored 3 power play goals to the Caps 2 in round one. Percentage wise the Caps PP operated at a 15.4% to the Rangers 15% so it was close.
On the penalty kill, this is where you have to look at the Caps perfect 14 for 14 and realize it had more to do with the Islanders atrocious power play than anything Washington did. As for the Rangers, they went 11 for 13 and an 84.6% against one of the better PP units in the NHL.
This one is close enough to be even but I will give a slight edge to the Caps. However, if the Rangers can replicate what the Islanders did to Ovechkin, this series could be a sweep.
Very Slight Edge – Capitals
My biggest concern for the Rangers in this series is actually not the potential loss of Mats Zuccarello but the lay off of 6 days. The Blueshirts ratcheted up practice yesterday to simulate game like conditions, so hopefully that will pay off.
The Capitals will be looking to punish the Rangers physically, unlike the Penguins who simply tried to intimidate and goad the Rangers into taking penalties. Expect a lot of big hits from Washington, but also expect them to be out of position in doing so.
NY must exploit the Caps aggressiveness with excellent puck support and quick outlet passes. If the Rangers can hit the neutral zone with speed they can create odd man chances that will exploit Holtby’s weakness on lateral movement.
Washington is a solid hockey team, but the Rangers have played them well going 3-1 during the year. I don’t expect that to change.
NEW YORK RANGERS IN 5 GAMES!