Thursday, April 16, 2009

Eastern Quarterfinals Game 1: Rangers 4 - Caps 3

It’s first to “four,” not first to “one.”

It’s first to “four,” not first to “one.”

Repeat after me… it’s first to “four,” not first to “one.”

Hey, Peerless? It’s also a three-period game, not a one-period game.

OK, ya got me there. If you’d have told me that after the first period the Caps: a) out-shot the Rangers 14-4, b) out-hit them 16-11, and c) won 11 of 15 draws, I’d have told you that the Caps: a) led after one period, b) had the Rangers on their heels, and c) had the crowd really into it.

The fact is, the game was scoreless after one period, the Rangers started to shift the momentum at the end of the period, and the crowd wasn’t quite as over the top as we might have expected.

That hits statistic is especially revealing. After tenderizing the Rangers relentlessly and remorselessly for 20 minutes, the Caps… stopped. And that was a metaphor for the whole evening as the Rangers ended up spotting the Caps a goal before winning Game 1, 4-3 last night.

After the Caps put up those 16 hits in the first 20 minutes, they registered only 11 for the last 40 minutes of the contest. And that was merely a reflection of the comparative listlessness that the Caps displayed in letting the Rangers off the hook.

Much will be made of the fact that Jose Theodore allowed four goals on 21 shots – certainly the fan reaction on the post-game radio show indicated that Theodore was, at best, the worst goaltender ever to have strapped on pads in the history of earth. But Theodore suffered from two things last night, neither of which were in his control. First, he is listed – generously, we think – at 5’11”. Why is that important? Because the Rangers did a good job of picking corners over his shoulders. The second Ranger goal by Nik Antropov and the game-winner from Brandon Dubinsky were scored in that fashion.

Second, despite the Rangers getting only 21 shots, the Caps did not play a very good game of team defense in front of Theodore. What unfolded was precisely the sort of thing that was described in many pre-game reviews of this series – the Caps spent such a portion of their effort on the attack that it leaves the goaltender having to face good scoring chances from the opponent frequently. Markus Naslund’s goal could fall into that category, as could Dubinsky’s, for that matter.

We won’t argue that Theodore played a good game – he didn’t, and he admitted as much in the post-game. But he didn’t get a lot of support in front of him at crucial moments, either.

Which brings us – speaking of that support in front of him – to Jeff Schultz. There probably isn’t a person in the Washngton metro area who feels worse about what happened on the Dubinsky game-winner than Schultz. Small consolation. He took a bad angle on Dubinsky, fell when Dubinsky cut back against the grain, and could only watch as Dubinsky skated in with Markus Naslund and only Mike Green back. Dubinsky picked the top corner, and that was that.

Then there was the fourth goal, which was actually the first of the night for the Rangers. If you only saw the end of the play, you might ask, “how is it that Scott Gomez got so open to skate in alone on Theodore?” Well, rewind the tape. What you’ll see is that Sean Avery set a moving pick on Mike Green at the Capitals’ blue line to spring Gomez free. What we don’t understand about the play, though, is what Shaone Morrisonn was doing at the end of it. He slid across the crease to try to deny Gomez a shot, but failed – or didn’t seem to attempt – to poke the puck off Gomez’ stick. He slid completely out of the play, allowing Gomez to cut across and stuff the puck behind Theodore.

Other stuff…

- 13 shots, 28 attempts, six hits, three takeaways, and a two assists (after originally being credited with a goal that ultimately went to Tomas Fleischmann). Alex Ovechkin had a very full evening.

- 46-20 on draws. You can’t do much better against air. Perhaps more than in any game this year, the Caps did a fine job of tying up the center on the draw and having a teammate come in and control the puck.

- Two power play goals for New York…two power play goals for Washington. If the Rangers equal the Caps scoring on the power play, this is not going to end well for the Caps. For it is there that the Rangers, well, suck, and the Caps can – and have to – make Henrik Lundqvist pay.

- Yes, we get it. Lundqvist is a better goalie than Jose Theodore. The object of the exercise for the Caps was, and will continue to be, not letting this get into a goaltender battle. They can’t give up chances in their end (they did), and they have to convert the chances they get at the other end, generally by getting second shots and traffic.

- Which brings us to what is too often the most frustrating thing about this team. They get so cute on the power play, it is as if they are trying to one-up one another to see who can make the prettiest pass, when what is called for is to pound the puck into the crease and go after it. That is how Alexander Semin scored his goal on the power play last night, and you could argue that it is how Tomas Flesichmann – setting up as a screen in front of Lundqvist as Ovechkin took a drive – scored his power play goal. If the Caps are going to spin the puck around the perimeter and go for that one last cross-ice pass that seems always to be deflected by an opponent’s stick, then it’s golf in May.

- For all the talk of Marc Staal and Dan Girardi drawing Ovechkin duty, it didn’t last long (Staal ended up being on the ice for all three Caps goals). The Rangers ended up sending Wade Redden and Michal Roszival out there. That didn’t really help much either. Ovechkin was the best player (at least the best one not wearing goalie pads) on the ice.

- It took 22 games, but Viktor Kozlov finally got his first career playoff goal off a positively brilliant pass from Nicklas Backstrom.

- Mike Green had two assists, but he was also on the ice for three Ranger goals and took a delay-of-game penalty. We’re thinking he got his bad game out of the way in this one.

- Here is an ominous statistic for you Caps fans hoping for a Cup this year. In the last ten seasons, the record of the Stanley Cup winner in Game 1 of the first round?... 8-2.

Stan Fischler is already rolling out the “S” word with respect to this series, and Larry Brooks is working the Lundqvist-over-Theodore angle this morning. Fine. What the Rangers did was pop the Caps in the nose. But it’s still first to four, not first to one.

Repeat after me…”it’s first to ‘four,’ not first to ‘one.’”


Flying Cloud said...

A much-needed antidote to the post-game blues, thanks for that. You summed it up pretty well with "They can’t give up chances in their end (they did), and they have to convert the chances they get at the other end, generally by getting second shots and traffic." We got 3 on their goalie, which is more than their average, but we gave away too much in our own end. We beat ourselves. We can fix it, but in my opinion the rookie is not the answer, at least not for Saturday. I want Pothier out there, though, right now.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Mr. Peerless. Varlamov for Game 2?

The Peerless said...

No. A series is not one game. The Caps need to have their best players be their best players. Last night, that meant that Martin Brodeur and Zach Parise were the Devils' best players; Crosby, Malkin, and Fleury were that for the Penguins; Roberto Luongo and the Sedins for Vancouver.

The Caps got a big night out of Ovechkin, good ones out of Backstrom and Semin, and a good/bad night out of Green. They need to be better. Brooks Laich played in a bit of bad luck last night -- when he was creating traffic (which he's going to need to do for the Caps to win), the puck wouldn't find his stick.

The Caps can't make this a series about goaltending. The Rangers win that battle, no matter who the Caps put in goal. They have to abuse Lundqvist with volume (they did last night) and quality of shots (not enough from in close, and they didn't -- as Laich put it before the game -- "take away his eyes."). In doing that, the Rangers won't get as many chances to test Theodore.

Anonymous said...

Two of the goals were our fault, One should not have been allowed as Avery took out Green and one they got due to a broken stick.

Rangers didn't win it we gave them the chances and they took them. I thought the caps were the better team in the first and third but did there normal disappearing act for most of the Second. If they cut out the stupid mistakes we should be fine....On to game 2.

Anonymous said...

Stupid is as stupid does. Schultz!!!

Dougeb said...

I'm sure Theodore will play better on Saturday, but I'm equally sure the Rags will play a better overall game Saturday than they did yesterday. Having Drury back will boost their faceoff percentage and he is a proven playoff veteran. I'm slightly optimistic for a victory on Saturday. If we can win Saturday, then we can hope for a split in NY. If we lose Saturday, it's likely a 0 - 4 sweep by the Rags.