Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Game 7: Rangers at Capitals

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

Maybe this is how it was meant to be. For the third time in four playoff series spanning five seasons, the Washington Capitals and the New York Rangers will play a seventh game in their rite of spring.  If you want to relive the ecstasy and the agony of the first two Game 7’s in this recent history, you can do so here and here.

The Caps have a long, sad history in Game 7’s of playoff series.  Overall they are 3-8 in 11 tries at this sort of thing, 2-6 on home ice.  The Caps are 1-1 against the Rangers, winning on home ice in 2009, losing in New York in 2012.  And frankly, there probably isn’t much to be gleaned from either of those games.  The 2009 game involved a very different set of characters, especially for the Rangers, and the 2012 game involved a very different sort of coach and style for the Caps than what they now have.

We are left more to ponder what it is about the Caps in Game 7’s that might be important.  The first thing to notice is that four of the last five Game 7’s, dating back to that 2009 win over the Rangers, have ended in 2-1 scores.  Let us leave out the outlier – the 6-2 loss to Pittsburgh in Game 7 of the 2009 Eastern Conference semifinals – and focus on those four games.

-- Scoring first has not been essential, but scoring early has been for the Caps.  In their two 2-1 wins they scored first period goals.  And even though in one of them (the 2009 game against the Rangers) they allowed the first goal, being tied or ahead at the first intermission is perhaps a different animal than being behind after 20 minutes, as they were in the two 2-1 losses. 

-- The Caps have not enjoyed much in terms of benefit of the doubt from officials in this series (14 power play opportunities, third fewest of all playoff teams).  Don’t expect this to change.  In the four 2-1 Game 7’s the Caps had a total of seven power play chances, only one in each of their last two Game 7’s.

-- The Caps are a combined 0-for-7 on the power play over those four Game 7’s, misfiring on all 11 shots they took. 

-- Conversely, the penalty kill was tested only sporadically over those four games, the Caps were 8-for-9.  That power play goal allowed was huge, though.  It gave the Montreal Canadiens the first goal and a lead they would not relinquish in a 2-1 win over the Caps in Game 7 of the 2010 Eastern quarters.

-- If history is a guide the Caps will not get a lot of chances.  They did throw 42 shots at Jaroslav Halak in the 2010 Game 7 against Montreal but other than that – 24 shots against New York in 2009 (two goals), 27 against Boston in Round 1 last spring (two goals), and 23 shots against the Rangers in the Eastern semis last spring (one goal).

-- In the four Game 7’s, the big guns for the Caps were silent.  Alex Ovechkin: 0-1-1; Mike Green: 0-1-1; Nicklas Backstrom: 0-1-1.  Of players who have appeared for the Caps in this series, only Matt Hendricks and Joel Ward have Game 7 goals in any of the four of these Game 7’s ending in 2-1 scores, both coming in Game 7 of last spring’s series win over Boston.

-- Shots against have not mattered for the Caps, although the shots do break down into two distinct parts.  The Caps held the Rangers to 15 shots in their Game 7 win in 2009 and the Canadiens to 16 in their Game 7 loss in 2010.  But in the game 7’s of 2012 – both of which featured Braden Holtby in goal for the Caps – Washington allowed Boston 32 shots in their first round Game 7 win and the Rangers 31 in their Game 7 loss in Round 2.  The question there was whether or not that was a product of a much more passive style employed by then head coach Dale Hunter.

In the end, what does it all mean?  For the Caps, it is the what was not there in those four tight Game 7’s that could spell the difference in this one.  We assume that it will be another tight game, of course, but whether it is one goal in the Caps favor or one on the wrong side of the decision could come down to these factors…

  • Power Play… No power play goals in any of the four 2-1 decisions.  If they get one, it will be big.  Even in the context of this series, when a team gets a power play goal, they win.  Of course, that means…
  • Power Play Opportunities… In the four 2-1 decisions those opportunities – for both sides – have been at a premium, only seven for the Caps, nine for their opponents.  In none of those games did either the Caps or their opponents get more than three opportunities.
  • Taking a lead… In three of the four 2-1 decisions the Caps allowed the first goal and were 1-2 in those games.  The Caps had to go to overtime to do it, but in the one game in which they took – and held – a lead in the first period, they won.
  • Big Guns… Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green – no goals scored by any of them in the four 2-1 decisions.  In this series the trio has four of the 12 goals scored by the Caps, but none since Game 3, and Ovechkin has not had a goal since Game 1.  This group has to be heard from in this game.
  • Shots…The Caps did not get a lot of opportunities in the four Game 7’s chronicled here, but they have been able to get shots to the net in this series, averaging almost 32 a game through six games.  If they suddenly struggle in this regard, it will not look good for the home team.

But here is the one number that will hover over this game: zero.  The New York Rangers have never won a Game 7 on the road, going 0-5 in those games, including the 2-1 loss to the Caps in 2009.*  Except for the loss to the Caps in 2009, each of those losses was to the eventual Stanley Cup winner.  On Monday night, the streak will continue.

Capitals 2 – Rangers 1

*  If you’re wondering, the Rangers lost at Boston in 1939, 2-1, in three overtimes; they lost at Detroit in 1950, 4-3, in two overtimes; they lost in 1974 at Philadelphia, 4-3; they lost at Pittsburgh in 1992, 5-1; and they lost in Washington to the Caps in 2009.

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