In the span of 1:39 during Wednesday night's second period, the New York Rangers scored as many power-play goals - two - as they had in the last seven games of the regular season. How did the worst extra man unit in the Eastern Conference manage that feat? Let's take a look.
With John Erskine sitting in the box for a hi-sticking penalty drawn by Sean Avery, the Rangers' Nik Antropov broke a 1-1 tie:
The Caps had killed the first minute and change of the disadvantage, but the penalty killing forwards that were on the ice when the goal was scored - Tomas Fleischmann and David Steckel - had been out for more than a minute when the lamp was lit, which is a long shift on the kill. More importantly, however, Fleischmann was stickless, leaving an exhausted Steckel to try to take away the shot from the point man on his side (Scott Gomez), cheat a bit towards the other point man (Paul Mara) and defend Antropov at the boards (sidenote: if Antro wants to play out there all power play long, I'm pretty sure the Caps are fine with that - better than on top of the crease). Needless to say, he didn't do it effectively, as Gomez walked Steckel well into the middle of the ice, tossed a pass over to Antropov who Steckel was too gassed to defend and who froze Shaone Morrisonn with a fake shot before taking his sweet time and zipping one past Jose Theodore. Fleischmann saw the play developing and tried to get out on Antropov, but ran into a Ryan Callahan pick en route.
Whether or not the shot was stoppable, the confluence of events leading up to the shot itself - an unnecessary penalty (to a good penalty killer at that), a long shift for a pair of forwards (one of whom lost/broke his stick and the other of whom may have over-committed on the play), and a blueliner who bit on a fake - should be considered as well, as, perhaps, the question of whether or not Flash should even be killing penalties at all (the fact that he had the worst GAON/60 of any Caps forward at 4-on-5 sure argues that he shouldn't be).
But goals happen (yes, even with the Rangers on the power-play), and as cliché as it may be, the first shift after allowing a goal - especially a tie-breaking tally at home in the playoffs - then becomes critically important. Unfortunately for the Caps, that shift lasted 32 seconds before Sergei Fedorov (he of the three Stanley Cups and $4 million contract) threw the puck off the rink for a two-minute delay of game penalty. What followed was Markus Naslund's 14th career playoff goal:
The breakdown on this one is even simpler than the last: you don't go for the long second-peroid line change when the guy with the third-most playoff power play assists per game since the lockout has the puck at his own blueline. Granted, the two Caps forwards who went for the change - Steckel and Boyd Gordon - had been on the ice since the beginning of the kill a minute earlier (see above), but if that puck's not deep, those guys can't leave the ice, at least not together (perhaps token pressure from Gordon would have driven Gomez behind his net and allowed for a cleaner, sequential change). The result was that neither of the two oncoming Caps forwards (Matt Bradley or Brooks Laich) was able to get across the ice in time to impact Naslund in any way (and neither of them skated hard to the puck), and Tom Poti may still be backing up on the play. Killing penalties is hard enough without giving the opponent chances in transition - this was a bad goal, and a bad team goal.
In the playoffs, mistakes are magnified, and mental acuity critical. No one doubted that the Caps physical effort that was at times lacking throughout the regular season's last month would re-appear once the puck dropped on the second season; focus, however, is a tougher switch to flip and perhaps a small lack thereof was what we saw on that second goal.
Two power-play goals in a buck-thirty-nine, and that's how it happened. Perhaps the Rangers have filled their quota for these seven games, as they've now matched their output from the previous seven. More likely, however, the Caps penalty kill - from the forwards to the goalie - will need to get better in a hurry.
[Ed. note: This video session is dedicated to the late John Madden, who left us unexpectedly yesterday. Wait, what? He just quit his job? Nevermind. Bam!]