Saturday, April 16, 2011

Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, Game 2: Capitals 2 - Rangers 0

The two most powerful warriors are patience and time. – Tolstoy

The Caps made it two for two against the New York Rangers last night behind goals by the Jasons – Chimera and Arnott – and 22 saves by goalie Michal Neuvirth in defeating the Blueshirts, 2-0.

The scoreboard looked a lot like Wednesday’s first period scoreboard with neither team able to tickle the twine. However, how they were authoring that result was a bit different this time around. The Rangers came out hard with four shots on goal in the first 97 seconds. But Neuvirth turned all of them away to allow his teammates to get their skating legs. Jason Chimera finally got the Caps on the shot meter 6:17 in, but the Caps had no better luck than the Rangers in finding the back of the net. The first period ended scoreless.

As unruffled as the nets were in the first period, they became, well… ruffled at the start of the second. At one end of the rink, anyway. Jason Chimera took a feed from Marcus Johansson between the hash marks and one-timed the pass past goalie Henrik Lundqvist at 2:11 of the period. Brooks Laich got the second assist, but it does not do justice to the hard work he put in to make that goal happen. After a faceoff in the Ranger end, Laich dueled with defenseman Matt Gilroy for the puck in the Rangers’ left wing corner. He kept the puck alive, pushing it back to Chimera along the boards. The puck came back around to Laich behind the Ranger net, and with Gilroy draped all over him, he pushed the puck one-handed to Johansson, who then found Chimera for the goal.

Just 1:57 later the Caps got some good fortune on a power play. Alex Ovechkin walked the puck down the blue line at the top of the Rangers’ zone and flicked it over to Mike Green at the top of the right wing faceoff circle. Green walked the puck down a couple of steps and took a shot from the edge of the right wing circle. Matt Gilroy blocked the shot, but not cleanly. The puck deflected across the slot, and when it came out the other side, right onto the stick of Jason Arnott. He did not waste the opportunity, burying the puck before goalie Henrik Lundqvist could get across to defend the shot.

And that was all Michal Neuvirth needed, looking for all the world like a 12-year vet instead of a rookie playing in his second NHL playoff game. Only once all game could it be said Neuvirth was swimming around in his crease, that coming about seven minutes into the third period and the Caps nursing that two-goal lead. But with Neuvirth down and out on a scramble in front, John Erskine made a glove save of his own, knocking down a Brandon Prust shot that was ticketed for the short side of the net. That was as much pressure as the Rangers could muster, and now they have to find a way to solve not only Neuvirth, but a suffocating defense that limited the Rangers to 22 shots on goal.

Other stuff…

-- Not only did the Rangers have only 22 shots on goal, they had only 48 attempts in 60 minutes, almost 20 fewer than what they had in 64 minutes in Game 1 (65). Only nine total shots on goal in the last 40 minutes tonight.

-- Are the Caps buying into this defense-first thing? Watching Mike Green lay out in the second period on shot by Brandon Dubinsky to block it was pretty convincing evidence that they are.  As was Karl Alzner taking one for the team and finishing his shift despite his being in considerable distress.

-- Brooks Laich wins the score sheet buffet coupon. An assist, plus-1, one shot on goal, five attempts, a hit, a takeaway, two blocked shots, and won six-of-nine draws in a shade under 19 minutes.

-- If Laich won the buffet, Marcus Johansson might be standing right behind him in line. He had an assist, was plus-1, had a shot on goal, three attempts, a hit, two blocked shots, and won five of eight draws in just under 17 minutes.

-- Sixteen of 18 skaters were credited with hits for the Caps (Boyd Gordon and Scott Hannan the only Caps without one).

-- In two games the Rangers have 47 shots on goal and have had 53 shot attempts blocked.

-- Marian Gaborik had four shots on goal, but was pushed outside to get them. They came from an average of almost 35 feet from the net.

-- Karl Alzner responded to a reporter’s comment yesterday that blocked shots are not the sexiest statistic by saying, “it is to me.” Alzner will make young women swoon with his exploits last night – eight blocked shots that puts him at the top of the playoff rankings in that statistic (11 total in two games).

-- Four Caps have at least five blocked shots (Jeff Schultz, Scott Hannan, and Mike Green – wait, did you say “Mike Green?” – yes, Mike Green are the others).

-- Coach Bruce Boudreau had a chance to manage ice time in a little more balanced manner in this game. No forward skated 20 minutes; no defenseman skated as many as 22 minutes.

-- The Rangers had no giveaways? None?

In the end, one has to wonder what John Tortorella has left to try in this series. He tried putting Erik Christensen, Vaclav Prospal, and Marian Gaborik on a line to generate more offense. They has a total of six shots on goal. He tried inserting Sean Avery into the lineup to provide some energy. Avery skated a mostly quiet ten minutes.

In fact, even though coach Bruce Boudreau did not seem especially pleased with the play of the Caps in the first five minutes of both the first and third periods, the Rangers looked small and slow in this one. And the Rangers did not do nearly as good a job as in Game 1 in getting pucks deep and working from behind the goal line. The Caps did a much better job taking away the boards and thus preventing a lot of the Rangers’ avenue to getting those pucks deep.

There is little more Henrik Lundqvist can do for the Rangers. He cannot be faulted for either of the Caps goals tonight. Stopping 47 of 51 shots (a .922 save percentage) will win a goalie his share of games. At the moment, Brian Boyle might be the best player so far among the skaters. And as good a story as that might otherwise have been for the Rangers, he can’t be their best skater. Marian Gaborik has done next to nothing, and has not looked especially engaged in doing (or not doing) it. Brandon Dubinsky has no points, is minus-3, and has won only 36 percent of his draws. Vaclav Prospal has only three shots on goal; Chris Drury has none.

The Rangers are trying to crash the net, but it hasn’t been successful. And given the lack of offensive skill in their lineup, they do not have a lot of paths that get them to a solution for their inability to solve Neuvirth. Unless Tortorella has another idea, he might be reduced to trying to get more out of a limited set of strategies. And that could make for a quick series.

But again, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Just win one game…14 more times.