Now that the Caps' first-round opponent has been determined (and we've dumped a ton of numbers on you), it's time to dive head-long into the series. Here are some early thoughts...
Three Things I Think I Like About The Match-up
- The Rangers Power Play. The Caps finished the season in the bottom half of the League in penalty killing, are likely without one of their top two penalty-killing forwards (Boyd Gordon) for at least the beginning of the series, and have been horribly undisciplined all year, but... they'll be facing a Rangers power-play that was the second-worst in the NHL this season, is only 4-for-48 since March 16 (and 13.5% under John Tortorella). Throw in the fact that the Caps successfully killed 54 of 63 (85.7%) penalties in their last 16 games (and that New York has allowed the second-most shorthanded goals against in the League), and it doesn't seem likely that the Rangers power play will be the difference in this series.
- The Rangers at Five-on-Five. The Rangers were outscored at five-aside by 15 goals on the season (though, as in most facets of their game, they've been better since the coaching change) and had the worst five-on-five goals for/against ratio of any team going to the post-season. By contrast, the Caps were in the top-10 in that ratio, and out-scored opponents by 16, five-on-five. The fact that the Rangers can't score on the power play or at even strength (even under Torts they're well under the League median in goals per game) has to be encouraging to a Capitals team that allowed the most goals of any Eastern Conference playoff team (tied with Montreal) during the regular season.
- Wade Redden. Redden - he of the 6-year/$39 million contract - is having arguably his worst season as an NHLer, averaging the fewest points per game since he was 20, posting the worst plus/minus of his career, and having the most penalties taken and fewest drawn of any of the regular Rangers' blueliners. But hey, he's got a very pretty wife.
Three Things I'm Pretty Sure I Hate About The Match-up
The Rangers penalty kill. New York has killed off 88.0% of its penalties this season, allowing just 39 power play tallies against (while scoring eight shorties). That 88% is the best single-season penalty killing rate since the Stars killed 89.2% of the power plays they faced back in 1999-2000, and they've actually been better than that - 91.5% effective - since Torts took over. The Rangers penalty kill against the Caps power play is perhaps the story heading into the series, and whether the Caps are closer to their 25.2% success rate or the Rangers' 88.0% kill rate could very well determine who advances.
Henrik Lundqvist. As great as he was a season ago, King Henrik - who has been a Vezina finalist in each of the last three seasons - has more wins and a better save percentage in 2008-09. and he's hot at the right time, having allowed more than one goal just twice in his last seven starts. He's even got the edge in handsomeness over his Caps counterpart.
Chris Drury. Dude's clutch. Enough said.