Sunday, May 05, 2013

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Game 3: Capitals at Rangers

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals and the New York Rangers take up their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal matchup on Monday night in Madison Square Garden.  The Caps held onto their home-ice advantage with a pair of wins in Washington, and now the Rangers look to do the same starting with Game 3 in Manhattan.

It is early, this series being two games in, but already there are a couple of things the Caps have done that are contrary to type as reflected in the regular season:

-- The Caps allowed 32.3 shots per game to opponents in the regular season.  They have allowed only 60 shots total (30.0/game) in the first two games, one of which went to overtime with the Caps allowing only 24 shots in 68 minutes.

-- The Caps finished 27th in the league in penalty killing in the regular season (77.9 percent), but they have killed off all seven of the Rangers’ power play chances so far.  Moreover, the Caps have held the Rangers to 10 shots on goal in 13:04 of power play time, only one of those power play shots coming off the stick of Rick Nash.  Over their last 11 games dating back to April 9th, the Caps are 24-for-27 on the penalty kill (88.9 percent).


-- Henrik Lundqvist is tied for sixth among playoff goalies with a .941 save percentage but does not have a win to show for it.  That is because Braden Holtby is 2-0, 0.47, .983, with one shutout.  In nine career playoff games against the Rangers, Holtby is 5-4, 1.60, .941, with one shutout.

Something to watch for…

Ryan Callahan has been on the ice for three of the four goals scored by the Caps in the series so far.  In the Game 1 pre-game review we noted that his aggression in penalty killing left a hole in the Ranger defense that Alex Ovechkin took advantage of to score a power play goal.  It happened again in overtime in Game 2:

With Ryan McDonagh in the penalty box for a delay-of-game penalty, the Rangers look to have their diamond penalty killing formation in good shape against the Caps’ 1-3-1 power play.  Mike Ribeiro is along the right wing wall, but the Rangers are tight and collapsed in the middle with Callahan at the top of the formation, John Moore marking Troy Brouwer, and Derek Stepan keeping an eye on Alex Ovechkin in the left wing circle…

Ribeiro now establishes himself at the wall, looking over his options.  Callahan has drifted to Ribeiro’s side of the ice, cutting off a potential skip pass to Ovechkin through the middle.  Moore had edged out to close the shooting lane Ribeiro has…

Ribeiro forces the play at this point, stepping in and winding up for a slap shot.  Moore has the shooting lane covered, but Callahan begins to slide across to try and block the shot Ribeiro is indicating.  This has the effect of collapsing the top of the Rangers’ diamond, opening lanes to move the puck to Mike Green at the top of the zone or (a more risky play) to send the puck across to Ovechkin in the left wing circle…

Callahan slides across Ribeiro’s shot line in front of Moore.  At this point the Ranger penalty killing formation has completely broken down, leaving Mike Green open at the top of the offensive zone for a one-timer or Ovechkin at the top of the left-wing circle for the same.  Derek Stepan is now in the unenviable position of having three players to defend – Brouwer at the hash marks at the edge of the right-wing center, Green, and Ovechkin.  He is going to have to make a choice…

Callahan and Moore are essentially out of the play in this moment.  Moore’s responsibility in covering Ribeiro was fulfilled, but there is no Ranger at the top of the diamond – that was Callahan’s responsibility, and he is behind Ribeiro at this point.  Green has an unimpeded path for his one timer, except for Stepan, who is too far away to improve his shot blocking chances.  And, the Caps have numbers for any rebound – Ovechkin all alone on the left wing, and Brouwer, who could turn in the direction he is already leaning for a short rebound near the crease…

It might have ended differently for the Rangers but for the fact that Stepan could not close the distance with Green.  He got close enough to deflect the shot upward just enough for it to sail over Lundqvist’s glove…

…Game over…Green.

This will be something to watch as this series unfolds.  The Caps have been very patient on their power play.  The Rangers have a penalty killing style that tends to aggressively pressure the puck.  Ryan Callahan has been particularly noticeable in this regard.   Can the Caps take advantage of Callahan as the series moves forward?  On the answer to that question this game – and this series – might turn.

Capitals 2 – Rangers 1

Caps vs. Rangers -- Torts' Shorts, Game 2

Frankly, we expected New York Rangers' head coach John Tortorella to be more entertaining in this series than he has been so far.  And by "more entertaining," we mean "smoke-snorting, fire breathing hell on journalists and small children."  But so far, we have seen "Subdued Tortorella."  Although, one can see storm clouds gathering.  You could almost see the first hint of wisps of smoke coming from the coach in his post-game press conference following the Washington Capitals' 1-0 overtime win over the Rangers...

And as for the quotes themselves...

“It’s a rule…”
-- When asked what he thought about the delay of game rule

“Create more offense…”
-- When asked what he thinks needs to be done going forward to get more scoring

“We’re just too stagnant…we’re just almost paralyzed."
-- Asked if it was something the Caps penalty killers were doing or the Rangers not doing that accounted for lack of success on the power play.

“I’ll leave it at that.”
-- On a follow up about what caused the power play to be stagnant or paralyzed.

“They played well, they played well… [we] changed the lines to try to create some more offense and also due to some matchups."
-- When asked what he was hoping to achieve by changing up the lines going into the third period and how the two players (Derek Dorsett and Brian Boyle) did in coming back into the lineup

“They’ll be fine, they’ll be fine, we got a good group.”
-- When asked about the team perhaps being down

It was not the volcanic Tortorella that you either love or hate (depending on your rooting interests), but it was a tick up the Tort-o-Meter of Surliness, too...


NHL Eastern Conference Quarterfinals -- Game 2: Capitals 1 - Rangers 0 (OT)

Page V of the “National Hockey League Official Rules, 2012-2013” describes the dimensions of the “approved goal frame.”  There you will find that the inner distance between posts is 72 inches and that the inner height dimension is 48 inches.

This six-foot by four-foot area is all that a goaltender is obliged to defend.  Braden Holtby defended those 24 square feet perfectly, shutting out the New York Rangers in the Washington Capitals’ 1-0 overtime win over the Rangers in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series at Verizon Center on Saturday afternoon.

Caps fans might want to keep those dimensions and the goaltender’s obligation to defend only that space if they are inclined to think Holtby and the Caps a bit lucky after the Rangers’ Rick Nash bulled through the Caps’ defense, and with less than four minutes left in regulation chipped a shot off the post to Holtby’s right that might have won the game for the Rangers in regulation time.

As it was, Holtby kept his net clear, despite the Caps having to kill off a penalty late in regulation – that one taken by Troy Brouwer on that bull rush by Nash -- then having to kill off a penalty in overtime when Steve Oleksy shot the puck off the rink from inside the defensive zone for a delay of game penalty.  It set up a thrilling finish when the Rangers took their own delay of game penalty, and Mike Green made good on his “Game Over Green” nickname, blasting a one-timer off a feed from Mike Ribeiro past goalie Henrik Lundqvist for the game-winner and a 2-0 lead in games in the series.

Other stuff…

-- Here is the “random” part of hockey that can be so confounding to numbers folks.  A shoelace.  When Mike Green fired his game-winning shot toward the Ranger net, it appeared that Henrik Lundqvist had a good view of the puck.  But as it was heading for the net it appeared to tick off the top of the skate of Ranger Derek Stepan ever so slightly – perhaps just hitting the laces of his boot – thus causing the path of the puck to tilt up ever so slightly and sail over the glove of Lundqvist, off the post, and into the back of the net.

-- Braden Holtby stopped all 24 shots he faced, making him perfect in the last 53 shots he has faced from the Rangers over 111:15 of ice time.  In nine career playoff games against the Rangers, Holtby is now 5-4, 1.60, .941, with one shutout.

-- His opposite number – Henrik Lundqvist – had, if anything, a better game.  He certainly faced more dangerous shots.  A redirect attempt by Mathieu Perreault that he stopped with his right pad.  A wrister from in close by Marcus Johansson.  A point-blank try by Jason Chimera.  Another point-blank attempt, this one by Alex Ovechkin when he split to Ranger defenders and worked his way in alone on Lundqvist.  Caps fans will hope this was his best game.

-- We like Ryan Callahan’s compete level.  He runs his motor at a high rate just about all the time.  But his aggression when it comes to defending on the power play has had a hand in two power play goals for the Caps in this series.  We covered one in the pre-game look at this contest.  In this one his sliding over to contest a shot from Mike Ribeiro – when John Moore was already in Ribeiro's shooting lane – opened up a shooting lane for Mike Green, who took advantage for the game-winner.

-- Rule 63.2 is on folks’ minds this morning.  The Rule states:
“When any player, with both of his skates inside his defending zone, shoots or bats (using his hand or his stick) the puck directly (non-deflected) out of the playing surface, except where there is no glass, a penalty shall be assessed for delaying the game…”
And the question is not whether Karl Alzner “shot” the puck off the rink with 45.3 seconds left in regulation time, but if he “batted” the puck over the glass with his stick when the puck was dumped over the Capitals’ blue line.  The ruling on the ice, as described by Caps head coach Adam Oates in his post-game press conference, was that the puck was “deflected” over the glass.

-- Is the Washington penalty killing that good or the Ranger power play that bad?  The Caps were three-for-three in this game, making them perfect in seven shorthanded situations for the series.  The Rangers were held to two shots on goal in six minutes of power play time, both off the stick of Brad Richards.  The Rangers did not have a shot on goal on either their power play late in regulation, nor on their power play in overtime.

-- Speaking of shots on goal… eight minutes of overtime, no shots on goal for the Rangers.  In fact, they managed only three shot attempts in those eight minutes – one missed shot and two shots blocked.

-- Rick Nash’s chip off the post late in regulation time notwithstanding, he had only three shots on goal in this game after recording eight shots on goal in Game 1. 

-- Ryan McDonagh’s last shift was memorable.  He took the ice with 4:05 gone in the overtime to match up against the Ovechkin-Backstrom-Johansson line.  The Caps dominated possession in the Ranger end and managed a shot on goal, then a missed shot before the Rangers iced the puck with 5:42 gone, McDonagh having been on the ice for 1:37 and having had to face the top line and the second line of Mike Ribeiro, Martin Erat, and Troy Brouwer in his shift.  But he could not get off the ice because of the icing call. 

This is where Adam Oates made one of those subtle game-within-a-game moves that does not get a lot of attention.  He swapped out the Ribeiro line for fresh legs, getting Mathieu Perreault, Eric Fehr, and Jason Chimera on the ice.  When Henrik Lundqvist stopped and froze a Perreault shot at 6:08 – McDonagh now having been on ice for 2:03 on this shift – the Rangers could have made a change.  But with Oates now sending out the top line, McDonagh stayed on the ice.  Washington won the ensuing faceoff and maintained possession and pressure in the Ranger end, getting six shot attempts at Lundqvist in the next 1:01.  McDonagh then found the puck on his stick, and in trying to relieve pressure, shot the puck off the rink instead, earning a delay-of-game penalty.  He finished with a shift of 3:04 and was in the box when Mike Green scored his game-winner on the ensuing power play.

-- Every Ranger skater was credited with at least one hit.  One wonders if, failing to do so, head coach John Tortorella threatens to make the offending player walk home.

-- Is Braden Holtby getting into the Rangers’ heads?  15 of 18 skaters recorded at least one missed shot. 

-- Every Capital, save Jay Beagle, had at least one shot on goal.  John Carlson and Ovechkin had seven apiece.

-- Eric Fehr was drafted by the Capitals back in 2003 off his considerable goal-scoring promise displayed with the Brandon Wheat Kings in Canadian juniors, but he is finding a place with this Caps team as a penalty killer.  His work in that regard in this game, including swallowing a shot in his midsection and smothering the puck under him, was superb.

In the end…

This is the fourth time in Caps history that the team won both Games 1 and 2 on home ice.  In two series they were taken to seven games, both against Pittsburgh (1992, 2009), and on both occasions the Caps lost.  In the other two series – against Ottawa in 1998 and against the Rangers in 2009 – the Caps closed out the series in five games.  The key is not Game 3 (lost by the Caps in all four series), but Game 4 (won by the Caps in both five-game series wins, lost in both seven-game series losses).

What this means is that the Caps have merely held serve, and now the Rangers get the chance to return the favor of disappointing their guests on Monday and Wednesday.  This series is a long way from over, but it is the Rangers who have the much more difficult path to win, thanks to a superb effort by the Caps and some sly moves by the coaching staff.