The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!
The Washington Capitals get right back to it on Sunday night, heading to New York City after their 5-2 win against Nashville last night to take on the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
Both teams will take the ice in the back half of back-to-back games. The Rangers dropped a 4-3 overtime decision to the New Jersey Devils at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night, so at least the Rangers will have the luxury of spending the night in their own beds. The Caps jetted off to Manhattan following their game against Nashville.
The Rangers have alternated wins and losses over their last eight games (4-3-1), culminating with their overtime loss to the Devils on Saturday. Over those eight games the Rangers outscored their opponents, 22-21, and the scoring for the Blueshirts has been rather tightly bunched. Six Rangers have five or more points in this eight-game stretch, and they are familiar names… Brad Richards (3-4-7), Ryan McDonagh (2-6-8), Rick Nash (4-3-6), Derek Stepan (1-4-5), Chris Kreider (4-1-5), and Mats Zuccarello.
Mats Zuccarello… With four goals and six assists over these last eight games, Zuccarello is the Rangers’ leading scorer. Those ten points exceed his entire total for last season in 15 games played and is almost as many as he compiled over the past two seasons in 25 games played (5-6-11). In three career games against the Caps he has one assist.
Of more immediate concern to the Rangers is a player who does not generally figure much in the offense. Marc Staal took a hit from New Jersey’s Reid Boucher last night in the third period of the Rangers’ overtime loss to the Devils. The incident left Staal feeling, in the words of head coach Alain Vigneault, “[not] quite right.” It is not clear whether Staal sustained a concussion in the hit; he missed 36 games to one in the 2011-2012 season.
The Rangers have been fortunate to date concerning injuries on the blue line, Staal’s immediate future notwithstanding. Only seven defensemen have dressed for New York so far this season (compare that to 12 for the Caps), and if Staal is out, it could open the way for Michael Del Zotto, a healthy scratch last night (one of seven this season), to return to the lineup. Del Zotto, who seems to be to Ranger fans what Jeff Schultz was to Caps fans (that is, a lightning rod for criticism), has struggled this season. He does not provide a lot of offense (2-3-5 in 22 games), and he is not an especially good possession player (under 50 percent at 5-on-5 in both Corsi-for and Fenwick-for percentages; source: extraskater.com). In 15 games against the Caps he is 0-5-5, plus-4.
Here is how the two teams compare overall…
1. The Rangers are the only club in the NHL that has not yet participated in the Gimmick.
2. Rangers special teams have been quite efficient in their recent 4-3-1 run of alternating decisions. The power play is 6-for-28 (21.4 percent), while the penalty kill is 17-for-19 (89.5 percent). It is also worth noting the plus-9 that the Rangers have enjoyed in special team opportunities over that eight-game stretch.
3. For a team that doesn’t score much and doesn’t give up much, the Rangers do not have a lot of one-goal decisions on their ledger this season. Only four teams have fewer one-goal games than the 12 played by the Rangers so far (5-6-1).
4. If the Caps have had issues at 5-on-5 this season, the Rangers have had issues in bold letters. Only Philadelphia and Buffalo have scored fewer goals at 5-on-5 than New York. Despite having a more respectable 18th place ranking in 5-on-5 goals allowed, the Rangers are 26th in their ratio of goals scored to goals allowed at 5-on-5.
5. What the Rangers are is a competent possession team. They rank 11th overall in Fenwick-for percentage in 5-on-5 close situations. When finishing a game at or better than 50 percent in such situations, the Rangers are 10-6-0 (3-5-0, however, at home).
1. This the fifth set of back-to-backs played by the Caps so far this season. In the four previous sets, what the Caps did in the first game, they did in the second. They beat both Philadelphia and Florida on November 1-2, they lost to both Phoenix (in a Gimmick) and Colorado on November 9-10, they lost to Montreal and Toronto (in another Gimmick) on November 22-23, and they beat Montreal and the Islanders on November 29-30.
2. When the Caps scored on a power play against Nashville, it marked the first time in almost a month that they scored power play goals in consecutive games. Their previous two-fer was November 7th and 9th against Minnesota and Phoenix, respectively.
3. The Caps have done well of late managing the other team’s power plays. In three of their last four games the Caps allowed the opposition two or fewer power play chances and have allowed only 16 chances in their last six games.
4. It is hard to come back in games in the NHL when you fall behind, but there is only one team in the league that has more wins than the Caps (4) when trailing after one period. Don’t put too much stock in it; the team is Buffalo. Five of their six wins came after trailing after one period.
5. Washington is a “real-time” warrior. If you go to the “real time” statistics at NHL.com, you will find that the Caps are a top-five club in blocked shots, missed shots, and takeaways.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
New York: Henrik Lundqvist
Let’s face it. Job One in this game is “Solve Lundqvist.” The Rangers’ netminder has 180 consecutive minutes of shutout hockey against the Caps going back to when he allowed the game-winning goal to Mike Ribeiro in overtime of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals last spring. That is 84 consecutive shots turned away over three games – the series tying and series clinching wins in the playoffs last spring, and a 2-0 shutout of the Caps on October 16th. It is entirely possible that Lundqvist will not get this start, since he got the call in the Rangers’ 4-3 overtime loss to New Jersey last night. If he gets the night off, that means that the Caps will face Cam Talbot for the first time. He might be ripe for the taking. After eight straight appearances in which he allowed two or fewer goals, he was lit up for four on 29 shots in a 5-2 loss to Winnipeg in his last appearance, last Monday.
Washington: Braden Holtby
One would think is unlikely (not impossible) that Philipp Grubauer would get the call against the Rangers, so that means Braden Holtby appears likely to get the back-to-back call. Fortunately, he had a comparatively easy time of it against Nashville, the Caps winning by a 5-2 margin on Saturday night. The concern here is that in four instances of playing both end of back-to-backs so far in his career, Holtby is 2-1-1, 3.30, .902 in the second game, not an especially sterling level of performance. He has one such instance of playing back-to-backs this season, winning both games, both of them in extra time. He posted a 3-2 shootout win over Montreal and a 3-2 overtime win over the New York Islanders on November 29-30. He is 2-3-1 against the Rangers in regular season games in his career with a 1.95 goals against average and a .943 save percentage.
1. Find shooting lanes. You can take the Tortorella out of New York, but you can’t take the Tortorella out of the Rangers…not entirely. In their lone meeting this season so far, the Rangers blocked as many Caps shot attempts as the Caps recorded on goal (22). The Caps need to make the goaltender work harder.
2. You can’t spell “rebound” without “bound.” Talbot looked a bit leaky in his game against Winnipeg last Monday. If he is getting the call, the Caps need to have boundless enthusiasm for getting to the net to whack at any loose change he might leave lying about.
3. Balance. See what happens when it’s not just “The Ovie Show?” The Caps had shooting and scoring balance from the forward lines and defense against Nashville. Having credible threats on more than just one line and maybe more than one (if that) defenseman puts more pressure on an opponent.
In the end…
It is not a statement game, but it does have repercussions. The Rangers have had the Caps number lately – two playoff series wins, and they haven’t beaten the Rangers in a game settled in the hockey portion of the competition since April 7, 2012. And, the winner of this game will be in second place in the Metropolitan Division (unless the Caps lose in extra time). The odd part of this game is that the Rangers, who play in arguably one of the most difficult arenas in the league for opponents, have the worst home record in the Metropolitan Division (5-6-1). They are 1-4-1 in their last six home contests and have scored only 11 goals in doing it. This game actually sets up pretty well for the Caps.
Capitals 3 – Rangers 2