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PHT Predicts: Capitals vs. Rangers – Who do you have?

Apr 11, 2011, 5:16 PM EDT

Alex Ovechkin,  Artem Anisimov AP

These two teams played an incredible seven game series a couple seasons ago, but they’re vastly different teams now. New York rolls with Marian Gaborik and a blossoming Brandon Dubinsky while the Capitals are more defensively responsible now. The Caps still have Alexander Ovechkin and Alex Semin to do the scoring and now Mike Green is back in the lineup on the blue line.

Whether it’s Semyon Varlamov or Michal Neuvirth that leads them in goal against all-world star Henrik Lundqvist is still up for grabs though. Here’s how we’re looking at things in this high-profile series which you’ll get to see Game 3 of which on Sunday on NBC at 3 p.m. ET.

James says:
There are some flashing neon lights pointing in the way of a Rangers upset, but my gut says that the Capitals are just too talented for New York. As great as Henrik Lundqvist is, can he overcome New York’s disadvantages in terms of quality depth, high-end talent and special teams? The Blueshirts keep proving me wrong, but I must obey my gut or it will grumble.

Capitals in 6. Jason Arnott has been getting a lot of press regarding his veteran presence, yet Mike Knuble brings a more important veteran presence: his presence in front of the net.

Matt says:
Any team that has Henrik Lundqvist is going to have a puncher’s chance. Losing Ryan Callahan is a huge loss for a team that wants to play the type of game the Rangers want to play. Honestly, it might be too much to overcome. For the Capitals, there’s no question that their year starts now. Through the system change and all of the ups-and-downs that came with it, we’ll find out if it was all worth it. As usual, despite a stellar regular season, Washington will solely be judged on their playoff performance. The Rangers won’t be the biggest test, but it’ll be the first test. It shouldn’t be a huge problem for them either. Capitals in 5.

Joe says:
The Capitals learned a lot of lessons from their first round ousting last year against Montreal. They’ve changed up their style and don’t play with reckless abandon anymore. They play the way a playoff team should now and having an ace up your sleeve offensively like Alex Ovechkin is huge. Unless Henrik Lundqvist goes ape and turns into the Swedish Superman, I don’t like how the Rangers shape up against them. It won’t be easy for Washington and the Rangers will give them fits, but I like the Capitals in 6.

What say you faithful PHT readers? Think we’re all in the bag for Ovechkin and coach Bruce Boudreau and his saucy stylings? Vote in our poll and let us know who you think wins.

  1. gocaps8 - Apr 11, 2011 at 7:50 PM

    Lundqvist is strong in net, but Gaborik has been up and down and Callahan is out. Not much punch from the Blueshirt blueliners either. On the other hand, Caps have something to prove and are playing tighter in their own end. Adding Arnott up front was huge.

    Caps in 6.

    • jpelle82 - Apr 11, 2011 at 8:38 PM

      inconsistent goaltending and the return of mike green on d will mean rangers win in 6

  2. sk1rmish - Apr 11, 2011 at 9:09 PM

    I know the capitals are a solid team but I really don’t think you guys give the rangers much credit. All year round they’ve been being tough playoff-type games. We have a stronger goalie and a pretty even defense/blueline. Caps got us beat in the offense category but rangers could have a hot gaborik and grinders like Prust, Boyle, and prospal. We shall see! But i think rangers in 6 maybe 7.

  3. stakex - Apr 12, 2011 at 12:21 AM

    Im a Rangers fan, so Im bias here. Though, if the Rangers should fall to the Caps…. I will in fact be cheering for the Caps the rest of the way. So while I’m a Rangers fan, Im not going to take cheap shots at the Caps. With that said, there are some important things to consider:

    1. The Rangers have out played the Caps this year, winning the last three meetings by a combined score of 15-1. Thats not something that can be over looked here, and from watching those games the Rangers system semmed to frustrate the Caps. The regular season doesn’t matter any more, but the teams still play the same styles they did back then… and it didn’t go well at all for Washington.

    2. Torts has won a Cup, and knows how to get a team there. Bruce Boudreau has proven to be a great regular season coach… but the Caps have bombed out 4 years in a row when they were expected to go deep each of those years. When you have the on ice tallent that the Caps do, you have to start looking to the coach after 4 early playoff exits, especially with Boudreaus poor goalie management the last couple years. Advantage Rangers in this department.

    3. Lundqvist is by far a better goalie then anything Washington has in its stable. Varlamov is likely to get the start due to his experience… but he was shaky in the playoffs the last two years. If Lundqvist gets hot, Washington is in serious trouble.

    4. Ovechkin was heating up the last 20-30 games and will always be a threat. But Semin, Washingtons second big gun has a terrible problem taking off during the playoffs. Ovechkin is the best player in the world, but if your second biggest scorer isn’t doing anything thats a problem… as we saw last year. This will be a definate wild card in whats bound to be a close series.

    5. Washington has MOUNTAINS of pressure on them, and the Rangers don’t. Washington is quickly getting a reputation as a team that can win in the regular season, but can’t finish in the playoffs… and the pressure is going to be huge to not go one and done yet again. The Rangers on the other hand are just happy to be in the playoffs, and really have nothing to lose. If Washington comes out tight, and the Rangers are able to steal a game or two… the pressure on Washington will only grow.

    To be honest, I think Washingtons odds of winning would have been far better if they finished 3rd or 4th instead of first. When your first, your expected to win…

    ————————————————————————————————————————————–

    Honestly, I think this series is far more a coin toss then most people think. The Rangers are a tough, gritty team that block a lot of shots, have a better goalie, and really don’t have anything to lose. Throw on the fact that Washington is going to be under a magnifying glass, has a recent histroy of horrible playoff success, no clear number one netminder, and has been beaten up by the Rangers this year… its not a cakewalk for Washington. Im not saying the Rangers should be the favorite… but its going to be one hell of a battle, and Id be shocked if it doesn’t go 7 games.

    In the end I think its to hard to predict a winner. I will say this: The team that wins the first game, will win the series. Again if the Rangers win the pressure on Washington might well be too much, and if Washington wins that pressure will be lifted greatly. I honestly think thats the single swing factor here.

    • jalabar - Apr 12, 2011 at 2:43 PM

      Pretty good post… let me touch on the inaccuracies in it, for there are a number.

      “1. The Rangers have out played the Caps this year, winning the last three meetings by a combined score of 15-1. Thats not something that can be over looked here, and from watching those games the Rangers system semmed to frustrate the Caps. The regular season doesn’t matter any more, but the teams still play the same styles they did back then… and it didn’t go well at all for Washington.”

      The Caps won the first meeting 5-3, which I note wasn’t mentioned. The second, 7-0 NYR, was the one that actually caused the Caps to overhaul their system, and they certainly do not play the same style they did back then. The third meeting, 6-0 NYR, was before the trade deadline, when the Caps were still struggling to acclimate to a major system change. The last meeting is really the only one with the current teams in the current systems, minus Callahan, and that one ended 1-1. I believe NYR won in a shootout.

      “2. Torts has won a Cup, and knows how to get a team there. Bruce Boudreau has proven to be a great regular season coach… but the Caps have bombed out 4 years in a row when they were expected to go deep each of those years. When you have the on ice tallent that the Caps do, you have to start looking to the coach after 4 early playoff exits, especially with Boudreaus poor goalie management the last couple years. Advantage Rangers in this department.”

      The Caps have ‘bombed out’ exactly once when they were expected to go deep. Four playoffs ago they did not participate in the post-season. Three playoffs ago, they made the playoffs by winning their last 7 games, then took the Flyers, who had the better regular season record, to 7 games before losing. Two playoffs ago, the Caps lost in the second round to the eventually Stanley Cup champions and defending Conference champion in 7 games, and along the way, Bruce and the Caps knocked off Tort’s and his Cup-winning experience. Last season, the Caps were expected to go deep and were beaten by the #8 seed in a series where they dominated play in 6 of the 7 games on the ice, but not on the scoreboard. They fired 148 shots at Halak the last three games, an average of over 49 a game, and he made 145 stops. Simple as that. But last season was the only season where you could reasonably say the Caps underperformed expectations.

      “3. Lundqvist is by far a better goalie then anything Washington has in its stable. Varlamov is likely to get the start due to his experience… but he was shaky in the playoffs the last two years. If Lundqvist gets hot, Washington is in serious trouble.”

      I won’t try to argue that the Caps goaltending is as good as the Rangers. But, two of the Caps three goalies have better save% and GAA than Lundqvist this season, and one, Varlamov, beat the Rags two years ago when, according to you, he was ‘shaky’. Also, Neuvirth will start game one, as he has carried the mail for the Caps in the majority of the games, and for whatever reason, the Capitals offense performs much better in front of Neuvirth.

      “4. Ovechkin was heating up the last 20-30 games and will always be a threat. But Semin, Washingtons second big gun has a terrible problem taking off during the playoffs. Ovechkin is the best player in the world, but if your second biggest scorer isn’t doing anything thats a problem… as we saw last year. This will be a definate wild card in whats bound to be a close series.”

      Prior to last season, Semin was a point-a-game performer in the playoffs, and tore the Rags a new post-season @$$hole two years ago.

      I have no argument with #5.

      If Washington wins game 1, I expect Washington in 5. If the Rangers win game 1, I expect a 7 game series that could go either way. My prediction – The Caps are a hungry, angry team after last year with way too much talent throughout the lineup, especially as it appears Green will be back for game 1, as apparently will Tom Poti, which gives the Caps back their two leading ice-time blueliners from last year. Caps in 5.

      • jalabar - Apr 12, 2011 at 2:49 PM

        I might also add in reference to #4, that Semin was far from invisible last year. he did get two assists, but he fired 44 shots on Montreal goalies in the 7 games, many of them from prime scoring range. He just couldn’t solve the Montreal goaltenders, which was something of a theme. I think his lack of assists speaks more to the Caps inability to gather rebounds for second chances than any fault of his.

      • stakex - Apr 12, 2011 at 8:33 PM

        Thanks for the reply…. a couple notes about your response:

        1. Yes, the Caps did beat the Rangers in the first meeting which I didn’t mention, because I was simply noteing the goal differential over the last 3 games they played. I understand the Caps weren’t playing great at that time, and that their team has changed a bit after the trade deadline… but the same really could be said about how the Rangers were playing. The Rangers haven’t played consistent all year, and even when Washington was struggling they had the far better team on paper. So really, the fact that the Rangers blew Washington out two of the last three meetings can’t be ignored.

        2. Well, that point is up for debate. Philly did in fact have a better record by 1 point in the 07-08 playoffs… but Washington was a much more tallented team, and was the favorite in the series. The next year, they really should have been beat by the Rangers, and were only allowed back into the series by horrible play on the Rangers part (Im a Rangers fan… believe me, I remember it very well). And sure, they ended up losing to Pit that year who ended up winning the cup… but still, it was a battle of top teams that Washington lost. You can argue they didn’t bomb out those two years, but with the expectations they had? Its a tough argument IMO.

        3. Varlamov did beat the Ragners two years ago yes, but he let in a lot of questionable goals against Pit the next series… and last year allowed a handful of soft goals in tight games against Montreal.

        4. Semin had quite a few assists in the playoffs until last year… but I think thats more a product of playing with Ovechkin who was on fire two years ago in the playoffs. Last year though he vanished. Let me ask you a question…. do we talk about how many shots Gretzky had? No, we talk about his goal count because goals win games. He might have had a lot of shots last year, but he didn’t score. He might as well have not taken a shot at all. I do agree with you that Washington as a whole was to blame for their scoring issues last year, as they took a ton of bad shots and had few second chances. With that said, your second best goal scorer can not be invisible in the playoffs. What if Malkin couldn’t score in 08-09? There would have been no cup for Pit… it can really be that big of a deal.

        Again Im sticking with whoever wins the first game is going to win the series.

  4. balewsquare - Apr 12, 2011 at 12:25 PM

    This is an interesting series. Even my gut is confused. For one, Washington has timed the mastering of its new style at just the right time. Second, Ryan Callahan is hurt, which is a bigger issue than it’s being made out to be. So this is a new Caps team, however, there are some issues that still nag at me. If (when?) Semin disappears, is Ovechkin going to resort to taking 10 shots a game from the top of the circles? Regardless of how good his shot is, to me, this just allows the goalie to build confidence for the rest of the game as it eases him in to play and allows him to zone in, feel comfortable, and track the puck. With that, if Lundquist is on, everything changes. Good 1st round matchup.

  5. gocaps8 - Apr 12, 2011 at 12:43 PM

    stakex,

    You make some really good points, and I think this will be a tough series.

    The Rangers have completely outplayed the Caps in the last two meetings, but I don’t think this is the same Caps team. Adding Arnott has not only given the Caps better muscle in front of the net for redirects and screens, but he seems to have lit a fire under Semin as well. I’ve never seen Semin play with as much consistency as he has since the trade deadline. I’m optimistic that he will play with urgency this year. The Caps are also deeper defensively than they were last year against Montreal. Carlson and Alzner are now a true shut down pairing, which relieves some pressure on Mike Green, who has been a terrible underachiever in the postseason. Most importantly, all three young Caps netminders are better than Theodore..

    I also like Torts as a coach, and if the Rangers win this series, I fully expect Boudreau will be fired. The team has the talent to win a Cup.

    To your point about the goalies. I agree the King is by far the best in this series. However, it will be Neuvirth who starts, not Varly for the Caps. Neuvirth has won two Calder Cups and he’ll get first shot. In fact, if Neuvy struggles, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Braden Holtby before Varly.

    To me, the bottom line in this series is that the Caps can throw three lines on the ice that are offensive threats and that creates serious matchup problems for NYR.

    • stakex - Apr 12, 2011 at 8:39 PM

      Your 100% correct…. if the Rangers win, Boudreau is probably gone. You can’t be the top team in the conference two years in a row and lose in the first round and not get your coach fired.

      As for the goalies, I just assumed Varly would start because he has some experience. Either way though, Boudreau has played musical goalies the last couple years, so who knows which goalie will be playing at any given time.

  6. balewsquare - Apr 12, 2011 at 1:00 PM

    While the regular season doesn’t matter anymore, NYR beating WAS 7-0 and 6-0 makes you have to take notice.

    • bcjim - Apr 13, 2011 at 10:00 AM

      I dont think *anything* can be made of 2 anomalous regular season games. In fact a lot of the “statistical similarities” between the 2 team can be traced to those 2 odd games. If they had gone the other way, the Caps would have a clear margin in both GA, GF and the Rags would be sitting at home.

      While I agree anything can happen. I think the Caps will win in 6, maybe 5 and I am hoping for 4 just so the Rag fans get quieted.

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