As we get ready for the start of yet another Capitals-Rangers playoff series, we continue our look at how the two teams match up and where the Caps might have an advantage over New York - or be at a disadvantage. Check out Part 1 here.
3. Where do you think the Caps have the biggest advantage over the Rangers? The biggest disadvantage?
Rob: The biggest advantage is special teams. Obviously the power play is huge for the Caps, and the penalty kill isn’t good. But the terrible penalty kill is less likely to be abused by the Rangers because they don’t have a power play that has really made teams pay over the course of the season. The talent is there, so they could go on a run and put some pucks in the net, but based on the numbers over the course of the season you have to think the Caps would like to see this series feature a lot of special teams time (assuming the power play opportunities are relatively even).
The biggest disadvantage is forward depth. During the season the Rangers had three strong puck possession lines (and the ability to mix and match the personnel in a variety of combinations). The Caps possession numbers all year were unimpressive. Injuries could change the picture, but right now the Caps have more valuable players than the Rangers (up front, at least - Marc Staal being out definitely hurts the Rangers). If Joel Ward and/or Brooks Laich can get healthy, and Brian Boyle and Ryane Clowe don’t, then the depth up front will be more even. The Caps have more elite talent up front, but they’ll be facing three very strong lines all series long, and they’ll need more than just Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom to show up and contribute.
JP: I agree with Rob on the Caps’ special teams advantage (and add that the penalty kill has been better lately, but disagree on the disadvantage in forward depth - a third line of Jason Chimera - Mathieu Perreault - Eric Fehr (and/or Ward if he’s good to go) could have some success against the back-end of the Rangers’ D-corps. So I’ll go with the biggest disadvantage being the Caps’ D matching up against the Rangers forwards. I touched on it above, but the depth just may not be there to handle a three-line Ranger team (which is related to Rob’s point). If guys like Derick Brassard and Chris Kreider start scoring, look out.
Geoff: I will reiterate each team’s depth as Washington’s biggest disadvantage heading into the Quarterfinal Series. A couple wild cards are interspersed within John Tortorella’s forward lines and some timely scoring could crumble Washington’s confidence.
The Capitals’ biggest advantage will be their four games on home ice, hosting a Rangers team that played below .500 hockey (either way you measure it) away from Madison Square Garden (10-12-2). With two home games in front of their red rocking fans to begin the series the Capitals have a better than average shot at sweeping the first two games. Understanding that team depth currently favors the Rangers, more so if New York can continue getting healthy before Thursday, matchups will be critical. Having home ice advantage in the series, along with last change, will be Adam Oates’ biggest tactical advantage.
Becca: As strange as it sounds, I think the fact that the Caps have faced Henrik Lundqvist so often is an advantage in a way. He's an excellent goalie and has definitely given the Caps fits over the years - but of the three most likely options they could have faced in the first round, Lundqvist seems to be the least likely to get into their heads. So much of this game is mental, and facing a goalie you know you can beat (even if it'll be hard to do) has to provide more confidence than going up against Evgeni Nabokov's 12-1-3 record and .926 save percentage lifetime vs. the Caps. Or against the recent memories of Craig Anderson's dominant performances this season. Lundqvist can steal games and the Caps know this - but they also know he's beatable.
As for disadvantages, I'd agree somewhat on the special teams angle but I think it'll be the reverse - as I mentioned before, the Caps have been dependent on their power play. And while the Rangers' penalty kill isn't the best, they don't have to use it all that often. If the Caps can't take advantage of their opportunities with the extra-man, that puts even more pressure on their penalty kill to be perfect.
4. Which of the Rangers do you see as posing the biggest problem for the Caps in this series?
Rob: It could always be Lundqvist, but I’ll say Rick Nash. The Caps haven’t faced him a lot, and he’s been on a tear recently. Looking at the Caps D, it’s not clear who has the skill set to contain him in a head-to-head matchup. Obviously, it’ll be Karl Alzner or John Carlson, but it will certainly be a challenging task for either of them and they’ll need lots of help. Based on the way the season finished (Alzner on the ice for more goals against than we’ve been accustomed to, Carlson on an under-the-radar tear of great play) I would say that Carlson should get the first crack at it. He’s big and mobile, so he may be able to move with Nash and handle him physically, but I have a feeling Nash is going to get his chances and drive Caps fans crazy during this series.
JP: Rob took my guy, so I’ll go with Derek Stepan. He’s hot (3rd Star of the Month for April) and with so much focus being paid to the Nash- Brad Richards line (assuming it is one), if he gets out against Mike Ribeiro, the potential is there for him to go bonkers.
Becca: ...and JP took my guy. So I'll go with the two-headed monster that is Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh. As we all know, how Alex Ovechkin goes is how the Caps go, and Girardi and McDonagh have proven capable of shutting Ovechkin down in the past. Obviously the postseason is often a time for the lesser-known players to step into the spotlight, but the Caps got to the postseason in large part thanks to a red-hot Ovechkin - they'll likely need that to continue in order for their playoff run to continue.
Kareem: Lundqvist. Plain and simple. He’s going to steal at least one game for the Rangers. The Caps need to figure out how to solve him first and foremost.
Geoff: If Nash ends up being trouble, don’t be surprised to see Brad Richards’ name next to each of his tallies on the scoresheet. The pass first player will be looking to feed an energized Nash, knowing that the power forward is able to skate it into the slot and towards the Capitals’ net. Setting him up, and riding his coattails at opportune times, I will spend my nights worrying about Richards’ distribution and puck possession skills.
Next up, the third and final installment of our roundtable, with everyone's favorite thing... predictions.