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Five Q’s: Capitals-Rangers preview

May 2, 2013, 11:51 AM EST

Alex Ovechkin and Carl Hagelin Getty Images

Will a happy Alex Ovechkin translate into team success?

Last year, when the Capitals faced the Rangers in the second round, Alex Ovechkin — one of the NHL’s biggest stars — played just 13:36 in a 3-2 Game 2 victory. The reason? Then-Washington coach Dale Hunter didn’t trust his captain defensively, often leaving Ovechkin on the bench when the Caps held a lead. This year, Ovechkin has thrived under new coach Adam Oates, moving from the the left wing to the right and leading the league in goals, with 32. But Ovechkin has gone into the playoffs as the league’s top sniper before, and it hasn’t translated into anything better than a second-round defeat.

Will Rick Nash make his mark?

Rick Nash has scored lots of goals in his career, but he’s still only played four playoff games. In his first season with the Rangers after being traded from Columbus, Nash had 21 goals in 44 games. Now comes the opportunity for the 28-year-old to make his mark in games that count. “It’s something all the great athletes have done,” he said. “It’s time to step up now.” With his big body and ability to shield defenders, Nash will also be key for a New York side that will want to control the puck in the Washington end as much as possible.

Will Marc Staal be back?

The Rangers’ defenseman has been out of the lineup since being struck in the eye with a puck in early March. It’s unlikely he’ll be ready for Game 1, but the fact he’s been practicing with the team is a sign he may be ready to play soon. Not only is Staal a good defensive defenseman, his return would mean fewer hard minutes for Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh. Last year, two of the seven Caps-Rangers games went to overtime. By the time New York met the Devils in the conference finals, fatigue appeared to be a factor, even if John Tortorella refused to admit it.

Can the Rangers stay out of the penalty box?

Because the Capitals have the NHL’s best power play. Washington — armed with the likes of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green — scored on an impressive 26.8 percent of its man advantages during the regular season. Meanwhile, the Rangers’ had only an average penalty kill (15th, 81.1%). Of course, the best way to negate a good power play has always been to avoid taking penalties. New York is normally a disciplined team, and would be advised to remain that way.

Can Braden Holtby match Henrik Lundqvist?

Holtby was rock-solid in goal for the Caps down the stretch. In April, the 23-year-old had nine wins against just one regulation loss, registering a save percentage of .937. Still, he only has one postseason of experience compared to Lundqvist’s six. What does he think about that? “There are things that you can gain from experience in terms of your play but when it comes down to it that stuff is thrown out the window,” said Holtby. “You just have to perform, you have to believe that we’re the better team and you go from there. You throw experience out the window and you just play.”

For all the first-round playoff previews, click here.

  1. jpelle82 - May 2, 2013 at 12:03 PM

    1. the caps need a good start to the series and he will stay happy = wins
    2. yes, you know he’s been waiting for this..he isnt a wide eyed kid, he will be ready
    3. not this series
    4. yes, theyve stayed out of it all year long
    5. he did last year, why not this year?

  2. micklethepickle - May 2, 2013 at 12:10 PM

    I’ve got to give the edge to the Capitals this year, for a number of reasons.
    1 – Caps have historically won over the Rangers (I think 4-3 in postseason series?)

    2 – Coach Oates seems to be the right mix of run&gun offense with responsible D,

    3 – Last year’s series the Rangers were the home team, this year Caps have the advantage,

    4 – Caps are coming in hot, and the Rangers (while not COLD…) seriously underperformed this season for the level of talent on that team; lots of people figured they would be where the Pens are now.

    5 – Holtby has a year of experience (+ last year’s playoffs) under his belt

    Granted, I’m obviously a Capitals fan, so any Rangers supporters care to share what they think are the keys to a NYR win?

    • mattybo - May 2, 2013 at 12:34 PM

      1 – majority of those matchups were the #1 seed caps coming in against an 8th seed rangers and this seems like a much more balanced matchup than some of the previous lopsided ones
      2 – agreed
      3 – this year the rangers had a much better home record but last year they didn’t. MSG effect on other teams in my opinion somewhat negates this – a lot of away teams get jacked up to play there and other famous venues across all sports im assuming.
      4 – Rangers have done well in the last 10-15 i’d say but not as consistent as they’d like i’m sure.
      5 – he seems to get a hard on whenever he plays the rangers (aside from when he got yanked earlier this year and hit every surface with his stick on the way to the locker room) and he seems to get up for big pressure. Obviously i’m hoping he chokes but time will tell.

      I’d like the Rangers to bang them around and get some doubt in their heads early on. The caps are a white hot team but no one can ignore they went 15-3 in their awful division (not their fault it is awful) and went 4-11 against the Atlantic. They beat a lot of good teams in their last stretch but those stats are still pretty glaring. I’m interested to see how this goes.

      • micklethepickle - May 2, 2013 at 12:46 PM

        Good info on the Ranger home record – wasn’t something I’d considered before. We’ll see how it plays out. Hoping for a clean, hard-fought series – with these two goalies, I wouldn’t be surprised if it mimics last year’s low-scoring matches.

      • babykaby - May 3, 2013 at 5:34 AM

        You might want to check who the Rangers played the last 10-15 before you point out who Washington was winning against during their run.

    • barkar942 - May 2, 2013 at 12:49 PM

      Keys to a Rangers win-
      Injure Ovechkin, injure Green, injure Holtby.
      JUST KIDDING- CALM DOWN!
      I don’t like seeing anyone get hurt. Just a joke.
      Seriously, I think Ovechkin’s season turned around after he was being ripped by Milbury and the media during that Sunday whipping that the Rangers gave them.
      Green looks like the Green of old, but will he be able to withstand being hit every time he moves the puck?
      The Rangers defense is much improved with the addition of John Moore as a solid third pair member. Hopefully Staal will return which would also help, but even without him the Rangers blue line has been good.
      The Rangers overall are much more balanced in scoring since the Gaborik-Columbus trade at the deadline. No longer a one line to shut down team.
      As per hot and not cold coming in, the Panthers game they should have won. Something Torts called puck luck in Buffalo. In Florida, they hit three posts and a crossbar- no puck luck. Also, losing Dubs, Anisimov and Prust removed most of the sandpaper from the team. Clowe has helped and so will Dorsett when he returns from injury.
      Holtby is impressive- Hank is The King.
      Both Holtby and Anderson for Ottawa raised their game last year to match Lundqvist and all opposing goalies will have to do it again to have a chance. Holtby is capable.
      Home team means nothing.
      Should be a fun series, but I personally am sick of playing the Caps so much in the playoffs.

  3. blockedshotnyr - May 2, 2013 at 12:41 PM

    Rangers fan here – my keys to the series are as follows:

    1. Lundvquist has to outplay Holtby – obvious, but true – if Hank’s play falls from elite level, this team has no chance. If Holtby plays up to (or plays close to) Hank’s level it becomes very difficult.

    2. Shots on net – the Rangers often get caught up in trying to make that extra pass, being unselfish, they are their best offensively when they are throwing shots at the net and crashing the goaltender for rebounds. They also have a tendency to go through prolonged accuracy funks, where their shots do not find the goalie.

    3. 5-on-5 – Statistically speaking, the Rangers have a rather defined advantage on the 5-on-5 play and need to keep it that way. If they stay disciplined than that erases Washington’s big strength and emphasizes the Rangers’ biggest strength.

    4. The power play – Ugh… All I can say is that if the Rangers somehow luck their way into a league avergae power play performance this series, it could be over quickly. I throw up in my mouth thinking about this power play… Yuck…

    5. Hot – Both teams are hot, I think that the Caps are the hottest team in the NHL is somewhat negated by the fact that the Rangers are also hot.

    I think this has 6 or 7 games written all over it – I would be very surprised if it were a short series in either direction. I’ve been saying Rangers in 6 and I stick to that. I think the Rangers goaltending and 5-on-5 play carry them, but if they take too many penalties the pendulum will swing Washington’s way.

    A.K.A. How tight/loose the officials call this series will be a big factor – especially tonight where we will get a feel for the officiating.

    • micklethepickle - May 2, 2013 at 12:47 PM

      Your username is fantastic.

      And I think that PHT is right in saying Marc Staal’s return/absence could be one of the pivotal factors in this series.

    • jpelle82 - May 2, 2013 at 12:57 PM

      biggest advantage will be ranger’s ability to keep wash off their pp which is killer. they match up in this regard as ny has been very disciplined…just hope asham doesnt get too fired up and do something stupid if he plays.

    • blockedshotnyr - May 2, 2013 at 1:03 PM

      Boyle and Staal practiced with team today – everyone on ice is a gametime decision (except Dorsett). Clowe did work on the side so while unavailable for tonight – he is getting closer.

  4. stakex - May 2, 2013 at 1:06 PM

    1. It will likely translate into Ovechkin success. The problem for the Caps is that over the last few years, at least in the playoffs, Ovechkin success hasn’t meant team success.

    2. The Caps have a so-so defense, so I would expect Nash to get his chances. Only time will tell if he will capitalize.

    3. Yes, I expect Staal to be back this series.

    4. The Rangers were by far the least penalized team this season. I see no reason to think that won’t continue.

    5. Simply put, no. Holtby is a solid goalie, and he looks like a hero since the Caps have had awful goaltending the last few years… but his overall numbers are just OK. Hes allowed five or more goals five times this year, and a closer look at his stats show a very up and down goaltender. Lundqvist on the other hand is a rock almost every night, and has a lot more playoff experience then Holtby.

    I also would point out that Holtby found success in the playoffs last year because the Caps were playing all out defense. Even Ovechkin was blocking shots. Hes not likely to see that kind of defensive support this year.

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

    At the end of the day, I think the Rangers are a better all around team. They have a far better defense, better more consistent goaltender, and have an offense that could be every bit as dangerous as Washington. They don’t have Ovechkin, which is really the one big advantage the Caps have… but the Rangers have shown over the last few years that they can shut him down, at least as much as Ovechkin can be shut down.

    Lets also not forget that this was a Rangers team many picked to win the Cup before the season started. They might well have under performed all year, but its still that same team. If they play to their potential, the Caps will more then have their hands full.

    • tfaltin - May 2, 2013 at 1:12 PM

      Playing to potential has been the issue all season. I agree with all your points, but do so with a bit less confidence that these sub-plots will materialize in the Rangers favor.

  5. tfaltin - May 2, 2013 at 1:09 PM

    Even strength the Caps are only really effective with one line. Everyone knows what they are a man up. In addition to Ovechkin, neing on the powerplay makes Ribeiro a weapon, and lets Green off the leash to create offense. Even though the Rangers have been better scoring, I still question if they can come back if they’re down 2-0 or 3-1 early in a game. The Rangers need to score the first goal, need to keep the Caps at even strength, need to make the Caps work in their own end, and need to clog up the neutral zone.

    • jpelle82 - May 2, 2013 at 3:54 PM

      true, true, and more truth

  6. johnstone17 - May 2, 2013 at 6:17 PM

    Paralysis by analysis. Drop the puck, don’t over think, remain disciplined & let’s see the Caps going home in defeat. Let’s Go Rangers !!!!

  7. 950003cups - May 2, 2013 at 6:32 PM

    Bring on the human sandbag show!

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