WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 28: Nicklas Backstrom #19 of the Washington Capitals and Brad Richards #19 of the New York Rangers prepare for a face-off during the second period at Verizon Center on December 28, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Last series we looked at how Claude Julien liked to use his players, and tried to anticipate what the Washington Capitals could expect to see. The match-ups we predicted largely held. Alex Ovechkin saw a ton of Zdeno Chara, Karl Alzner and John Carlson saw a ton of the Boston Bruins top 6 forwards, and Nicklas Backstrom went head to head with the Bruins second line.
But John Tortorella deploys his players a bit differently than Julien did, so the match-ups the Caps will see and the second round are going to be a little bit different.
Like the Bruins, the New York Rangers have one D pair that they rely on heavily to play against the opposition's best players. The Rangers, however, match their top pair, Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi, even more aggressively than the Bruins. The drop off in QComp Corsi Rel as you scroll down the Rangers' depth chart is even more drastic than it is for the Bruins, and the bottom pair D for the Rangers faces easier competition than the Bruins bottom pair. In short, the greater delta between the Rangers top pair and bottom pair defensemen indicates more aggressive defensive matching by Tortorella.
The Rangers also appear to match defense more by personnel than zone starts. They don't have any clearly protected defensive pair by zone starts, though they do by the quality of competition metrics. The top pair faces tougher zone starts, but a lot of that will boil down to the fact that opposing coaches like to use their top line in the offensive zone. (continued after the jump...)
Alex Ovechkin's line will see McDonagh and Girardi all series. It's not Chara/Seidenberg, but it's not a D pair that anyone should take lightly. McDonagh is young, but he's a rising star, and Girardi was an All-Star this season... whatever that means these days. If Girardi can find a way to be on the ice for 8 goals against this series, like the Caps All-Star D was last round, the Caps should be in good shape. I wouldn't count on it, though.
|Player||TOI/60||Qcomp Corsi Rel||Corsi Rel||Corsi On||OZ%||GF/60||GA/60|
|MICHAEL DEL ZOTTO||16.2||0.211||-1.1||-6.01||51.3||2.69||2.07|
After the top pair you have Marc Staal and Michael Del Zotto. That pair faces middling competition with almost neutral zone starts. They won't be protected, but they won't be hard-matched against tough players either. Nicklas Backstrom, should he stay on the second line, will likely see a lot of these guys. That has more to do with the Rangers trying to hide their third pair, currently Anton Stralman and Stu Bickel, than it has to do with a preference to get Staal and Del Zotto out against good players. Staal has historically been a solid player, and up until this season was a top-pair defender for the Rangers, but he hasn't reached that same level of play since his concussion.It's a little shocking that Staal is the only Ranger defenseman who figures to get ice time in this series with a negative on-ice goal differential (he also has the worst PDO of that group). Del Zotto is great with the puck, but an adventure without it.
The third pair is going to be hidden, and for all intents and purposes the Rangers may end up going with 5 D in close games. Bickel is essentially there to fight, should the need arise. He won't see ten minutes of ice most nights, so expect McDonagh and Girardi to pick up extra shifts with Stralman. Last year the Rangers relied heavily on their top pair and the Caps were able to wear them down (with the help of a short rest and some overtime). That will once again be a key for the Capitals. If the Rangers start wearing down, or Bickel's toughness doesn't prove useful, the Rangers may have to turn to old friend Steve Eminger. He could probably handle more minutes than Bickel, but he isn't necessarily an upgrade.
The thing that really stands out with the Rangers D corps is that there are no positive-Corsi players in the group. Every pair gets out-shot. The Bruins were a very dominant Corsi team, but aside from games 1 and 4 the Caps were able to keep the shots on goal relatively close. The Rangers are not the same kind of possession team, so the Caps, especially their skill players (Backstrom was the only positive-Corsi player in the top-6), will need to take advantage of that and spend much more time in the offensive zone.
The Rangers forwards don't see nearly the kind of line matching that the defense does. The spread from top to bottom is much narrower, and none of the forwards face competition that really makes you take note. It appears as though Tortorella is content to roll the lines and let his forwards do what they do - which is to work the puck deep and pound the opposition, blocking shots in the defensive zone and trying to keep everything to the outside. As with the D corps, there are a lot of negative-Corsi players up front (and one of those positive-Corsi players, Brandon Dubinsky, was limping all over the ice in game 7 against Ottawa. No way he's anywhere near 100%, even if he plays). The 4th line of the Rangers is very negative-Corsi, so the Caps should have an advantage in the 4th line match-up, just like they did against the Bruins.
One thing to keep in mind - Chris Kreider wasn't around for the regular season, but he joined the team during the first round and he's gotten better with each game. He has a ton of speed and a great shot, he could be tough for the Caps' 2nd and 3rd pair to handle.
|Player||TOI/60||Qcomp Corsi Rel||Corsi Rel||Corsi On||OZ%||GF/60||GA/60|
Where the forwards seem to differ from the D is in the zone start spread. There is a lot more variation in how the Rangers forwards get deployed territorially. You can expect to see Brad Richards' line or Derek Stepan's line on the ice if the Caps are facing a defensive zone draw.
The Rangers offense, like the Bruins, is built on depth. That's why Torts is comfortable rolling the lines, he knows what he'll get from any line. The Hagelin-Richards-Gaborik line is clearly the most threatening line, though they weren't exactly lighting it up against the Senators. Expect to see Karl Alzner and John Carlson play a lot of minutes against that line. Given the lack of high-end talent on the other Rangers lines, Roman Hamrlik and Mike Green will need to be able to win their match-ups, and Dennis Wideman and whichever partner he ends up with have to be able to not be on the ice for a whole bunch of 5-on-5 goals.
Because of the similarities between both coaching and personnel, the keys to this series are generally very similar to the last one. With Ovechkin and company facing the toughest D pair, and Backstrom facing off against a slightly weaker second-line, it will be crucial for Backstrom to win his match-up; on the flip side, Alzner and Carlson will have their hands full trying to control the top line for the Rangers.
One major difference in this series from the last one, however, is how the Green/Hamrlik pair handles the secondary scorers for the Rangers. Specifically, will the Rangers be able to exploit Green with their physicality, or Hamrlik with their speed? If the Rangers win that match-up, it'll be trouble for the Caps. If not, the Rangers are going to have a hard time creating offense against the Caps.