Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!! -- Eastern Conference Quarterfinals: Capitals vs. Rangers, Game 5

The Peerless Prognosticator is ON THE AIR!!!

The Washington Capitals return to Washington this afternoon in a 3:00 tilt against the New York Rangers. It’s Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal and a chance for the Caps to slam the door on the Ran…

“You know, you need to be careful about slamming doors.”

Beg your pardon?

“Doors…some doors are for slamming. Others aren’t.”

Didn’t know there were rules about such things.

“Well, that’s where I come in…’Lochan Key’ is the name, and my specialty is doors.”

Doors? With that name shouldn’t you be…

“Yeah, I know. Making keys. Like I haven’t heard that before.”

So, about doors. There are better doors than others for slamming?

“Oh, sure. You wouldn’t want to slam French doors. You’d be spending the rest of the day cleaning up broken glass.”

Good point.

“Now a good solid wood entry door, that’s good slammin’ right there.”

How so?

“Good weight, a nice solid ‘thwack’ when you slam it…can’t go wrong with a good solid wood door for slamming.”

Wouldn’t steel do as well?

“Nah…don’t have the same kind of ‘thud’ as a wood door.”

Is there any kind of door you absolutely do not recommend?

“Pet doors…well, unless you have an Avery running around loose.”

Well, the Caps will be looking to slam the door on Avery and the rest of the Rangers this afternoon as they take a three-games-to-one lead into Game 5. Washington will come into this game with the best defense in the post-season, allowing 1.75 goals per game. It is quite an improvement over last year’s goals allowed-per-game of 2.86 in the opening round loss to Montreal.

Another thing that the Caps have improved upon is their 5-on-5 play, where the Caps’ ratio of 1.60 is a significant improvement over the 1.31 in last year’s opening round series.

Power play? Same thing, but it would be hard not to improve on a 1-for-33 mark. The improvement has not been very impressive, however, if you are interested in effectiveness (volume) as opposed to efficiency (production). The Caps have only two power play goals in this series so far in four games. One might like that they have come on 12 opportunities (16.7 percent), but 12 opportunities?  Only Boston has as few total chances on the power play, and only Vancouver has fewer opportunities on a per-game basis.

The Caps have made up for it on the penalty kill, where they have allowed but a single goal in 18 total shorthanded situations. The 94.4 percent kill rate is quite an improvement over the 80.0 percent (24-for-30) in last year’s first round. But the minus-6 in the comparison of Ranger to Capitals power play opportunities has to be of some concern, not to mention the fact that the Caps have spent almost 11 more minutes killing penalties than have the Rangers (second worst in that statistic among the 16 playoff teams).

Something the Caps have not been able to do so far is to draw penalties as the game goes on. The Caps have put the Rangers shorthanded seven times in four games thus far, but only a total of five times in the second and third periods, and overtime. Meanwhile, the Caps have been shorthanded 12 times in periods two and three, and in overtime. Balancing those numbers and putting that kind of pressure on the Rangers late will be something to watch for this afternoon.

If anything can be said to be the theme of this series it might be “Hollywood Squares,” as in, “I’ll take the Capitals…or the Rangers to block.” The Caps and Rangers rank second and fourth among all playoff teams in blocked shots, and the combined 168 the teams have is miles ahead of the next series (the Buffalo/Philadelphia and Los Angeles/San Jose series each have 146).

The Peerless’ Players to Ponder

New York: Marian Gaborik

It was Marian Gaborik, doing the right thing the wrong way, who chipped the puck out from under Henrik Lundqvist’s attempt to cover it that led to the overtime game-winning goal by Jason Chimera in Game 4. Gaborik has not been much heard from in this series in the way he is paid to be heard from – he has one goal on 15 shots thus far. And now he is wearing goat-horns of a sort for the defensive play he tried and failed to execute. Gaborik isn’t paid to be a back-checker, although at this stage of the season everyone needs to contribute in that way. If he does, fine. But if he doesn’t ramp up his offense soon, it will be very late for the Rangers. Late as in, “good night.”

Washington: Nicklas Backstrom

Alex Ovechkin gets the press, good and bad, but the curiosity for the Caps in this series is not so much Ovechkin’s two goals and two assists as it is Backstrom’s grand total of one point (an assist) in four games. Boyd Gordon has as many shots on goal, and Karl Alzner has as many points. Those two are paid to be primarily the sort of player who prevents scoring. Backstrom, while a sturdy two-way sort, has to produce more on offense. If he does this afternoon, Caps fans will be going home happy.


1. Pucks to the net. The Caps did a better job of this in Game 4 (53 shots on goal, “only” 28 others blocked), and they were rewarded with a four-goal result, even if it took almost five periods to do it. Alexander Semin has been especially adept, with 18 shots in four games. But Backstrom (nine shots) and Brooks Laich (ten), who could be assuming the “Mike Knuble” role today, will be players to watch for in terms of putting shot pressure on Henrik Lundqvist.

2. Balance in the box. The Caps have marched to the penalty box enough for 14 shorthanded situations in the last two games; the Rangers only seven. If the Caps can balance that ledger, perhaps they can establish more offensive rhythm than they have been able to generate in the last two games.

3. Seventh Man. After a night of “can you hear us?” the Verizon Center crowd has a chance to one-up the Madison Square Garden throng with a “you can’t top this” noise level that the Caps might find the tonic to push them over the top and into the next round.

In the end, this is where it comes to an end for the Rangers. All their bullets are gone. Coach John Tortorella has tried to tweak lines, tried inserting Sean Avery into the lineup for some more “energy” (no points, minus-2, two penalty minutes in three games), and Henrik Lundqvist, while often spectacular in goal so far (2.08, .922) can’t do it all by himself game after game. The Caps have not played especially well in four games, and credit the Rangers with having something to do with that with their never-say-die, 200-foot work ethic. But at some point, it’s talent that takes you to the next level, and the Rangers do not match the Caps in that area.

Slam the door! Now!!

Caps 4 – Rangers 2