Thoughts Through The First Two Games Of Rangers-Capitals
Analyzing the Rangers-Capitals series so far.
Last postseason when the Rangers were on their magical run to the Stanley Cup Final, I penned articles molded similarly to Elliotte Friedman's '30 thoughts' column. I am back at it this postseason for as long as the Rangers stay alive, with two installments already written. Here is the third.
1. If you were to tell me before the series started that it would be tied after two games, I would have shrugged and accepted it. Being tied through two is not great or terrible in all honesty. Sure, no team wants to lose home ice advantage, but the Rangers are a terrific road team and the confidence is certainly there in their ability to win at least one in Washington. My expectation is we will be back in New York tied 2-2 in the series, and this series is going seven. We shall see.
2. As for everything before the crazy final five seconds in game one, the Rangers were the better team. Braden Holtby kept the Capitals ahead for the majority of the game, then kept the game tied for a few minutes. After the game ended I was torn between confidence over the fact that the Rangers were the better team and disappointment over the fact that the Rangers were the better team but lost. It is very rare a team is the better team every game in a seven game series, so losing a game when they were was not minor at all. That being said, the game two victory in which once again the Rangers outplayed the Capitals certainly added some confidence.
The Capitals should be happy being tied at one win a piece in the series heading to Washington, while the Rangers should be content, but not thrilled. New York cannot afford to play with any less intensity in Washington, or they will fall behind in the series.
3. Now onto the final five seconds. After a lot of thinking about the non-call on Backstrom's hit, I am not okay or upset about the call. Essentially I find myself indifferent to the call, as that is not a call that is being made this postseason. Should the referees have called a penalty on Alexander Ovechkin's hit on Thomas Hickey in the Islanders-Capitals series, or even Alexander Ovechkin's hit on John Tavares in the same series, I would have then been upset about the non-call on Backstrom's hit. The referees did not, though, so I find myself thinking that the NHL is going to let hits like that go this postseason and let the players play.
There is definitely an argument to be made that that will lead to more dangerous hits and more injuries, but as long as the league is consistent I doubt they will face much backlash past the immediate reactions each play. I am certainly disappointed a penalty was not called, but I am not the slightest bit surprised, nor do I think a penalty would have been called if it was Dan Boyle hitting Nick Backstrom. This is playoff hockey, which in the modern day NHL means a lot slides.
4. Once the penalty was not called, there is zero excuse for how the Rangers handled the play. Zero. Ryan McDonagh spoke about how the team was shell shocked about the non-call, and that may be true, but that is not a valid excuse. The lackluster reaction and leaving Joel Ward wide open in front of the net (again!) would not be acceptable in the regular season, better yet with five seconds left in game one of a playoff series. Play until you hear the whistle or the horn.
5. Weird game from J.T. Miller in game one. He was one of the best players on the ice, except for when he was making some of the worst turnovers I have ever witnessed. Miller made a perfect pass to nearly set up a goal....for Joel Ward. With Miller one has to expect the turnovers and mental miscues in exchange for the two-way game that he brings to the table. Luckily the turnover did not result in a goal, although he was on the ice for the winning goal in the final seconds.
6. Jesper Fast was terrible in game one. I do not know if he took some magic pills or something in between games one and two, or what, but Fast may have been one of the two or three best players for the Rangers in game two. Considering Fast's status as one of the youngest players on the team, and his role on the team in the regular season as a fourth liner compared to now being moved up to one of the top lines, Fast easily could have continued to struggle and few would blame him.
Instead, game two was the best of Fast's career, and his line looked fantastic because of it. There were some warranted worries over Fast's abilities to play off of the fourth line in the playoffs, but he put those to bed at least for the interim.
7. Alexander Ovechkin was allowed to do way too much in game one, but only (only? see how good Ovechkin is?) managed one goal. In game two, the Rangers suffocated Ovechkin for a good portion of the game outside of a major scoring chance in the first period. It was excellent to see that change, and kudos to Alain Vigneault for taking care of a major problem between the two games.
However, this is Alexander Ovechkin we are talking about here, so of course he scored one of the most ridiculous goals we will see this postseason to keep the Capitals in the game in game two. There is pretty much nothing the Rangers could have done to stop him there outside of Girardi and/or McDonagh being stronger or perhaps a bit more patient, but blaming them is useless considering just how spectacular the goal was.
My belief is that Alexander Ovechkin will win a cup with Barry Trotz as head coach unless the Capitals do not have four capable lines. The days of teams winning with fewer than four solid lines are over, and this Washington team has three solid lines and one fringe-solid line. Hopefully this is not the year Ovechkin gets his ring.
8. Braden Holtby and Henrik Lundqvist were both spectacular in games one and two. Both games could have easily finished with ten combined goals or more with average goalies in net, but the pair of netminders were on the top of their games. Look for that to continue, and look for close, low scoring games.
9. Sixteen Rangers have played in every game this postseason so far. Out of those sixteen the nine that have scored at least one goal are: Dan Boyle, Derick Brassard, Jesper Fast, Carl Hagelin, Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider, Ryan McDonagh, Rick Nash, and Derek Stepan.
The seven that have not scored a goal? Dan Girardi, Tanner Glass, J.T. Miller, Dominic Moore, Martin St. Louis, Marc Staal, and Keith Yandle.
Out of those seven we have three defensemen, two thirds of the fourth line, J.T. Miller who has had numerous close calls, and....Martin St. Louis.
St. Louis has managed one goal in his last fourteen games, and zero power play points since January 18th, which is 37 games ago. Considering his role on the team that is unacceptable, and a major reason the Rangers power play has not been as good as it could potentially be.
When discussing the Rangers power play and offense, analysts often mention Martin St. Louis right along side Rick Nash and Derick Brassard, but that is simply not the player St. Louis is anymore. St. Louis is a possession black hole, an aging veteran trying to hold onto what's left of his talent. Think Brad Richards in the last two rounds of the 2013-2014 playoffs.
Hopefully St. Louis can channel some of his playoff magic from last postseason, but the guess here is that the loss of Mats Zuccarello, combined with the additional playing time for St. Louis due to that injury will haunt the Rangers. Alain Vigneault would be wise to increase the playing time of the likes of Chris Kreider and J.T. Miller and limit the time on ice for St. Louis, trying to keep his legs fresh and get him out there in bursts.
If the Rangers continue to treat Martin St. Louis like a first line 60 point winger, they will only be hurting themselves, not the opposing defenses.
10. Let's Go Rangers!