In Jewish households across the country, members of the tribe will watch proudly as their youngest child offers up the traditional Four Questions - a reflection on what separates the holiday of Passover from a normal day, with each question beginning with "what is different?"
As the Caps attempt to shake off their first loss of the playoffs, we have our own Four Questions to pose, asking not just what is different now but what has been different and what can/must change going forward.
1) Will Michal Neuvirth be better?
J.P.: If someone were to tell you before the series that Neuvy would have a 1.22 goals against average and a .951 save percentage through three games, you'd have gladly taken it. And he was certainly very good for most of his Game 3 loss, including some fabulous penalty-killing netminding. But Erik Christensen's goal was a tough one to allow (even if it was a once-in-a-lifetime shot), and if periods were 20:00.02 long instead of just twenty minutes, Neuvy would have allowed four goals against for the third time in his last eight starts overall.
So will he be better? On the season, Neuvy was 14-5-0/2.26/.919 with three shutouts in starts following games in which he allowed three or more goals. I'd expect Neuvirth to be better. I'd expect the team derfense in front of him to be better. I'd expect the officiating to be better. And if all or most of that doesn't happen... there's always Semyon Varlamov waiting in the wings for his chance to make an impression on this series.
2) What's wrong with Nicklas Backstrom?
David: What's wrong with Nick? I wish I knew, but the reality of the situation is that there isn't one clear cut issue; it's not like he's favoring an ankle or a wrist and it's throwing him off, or that he has been known to be under the weather, or that the style of play hasn't suited his strengths. He's just been...off. Suddenly the man who makes those around him look better night in and night out and who can play in any situation can't click with anyone and looks lost in all three zones, in all situations, and there's no clear reason why - which means, perhaps unfortunately, it's probably just a slump.
So what do you do with that if you're the Capitals coaching staff? Honestly, there's not much you can do beyond putting Nicky in a situation that might get him back on track - force feed him the puck on the powerplay or roll him through the lines if the game is out of reach, maybe - but otherwise, the Caps are just going to have to wait and hope for the best.
3) Has John Carlson hit the wall?
Kareem: There is potential to reach this conclusion. His TOI in the Rangers series has dropped from 26:19 in Game 1, to 20:25 in Game 2, to 17:44, his third lowest amount of playing time this season. His low Game 3 TOI was no doubt helped by his 4 PiMs and a few bad plays, most noticably getting burned on the Vinny Prospal goal. But one can't help but wonder if the 21-year old Carlson - in his first full NHL season, averaging over 22:30 per game and routinely getting matched up against opponent's top lines - may indeed be tiring out.
The good news is that the Caps have options. With Mike Green back in the fold and seemingly back at full strength, the Caps can distribute the tougher minutes to Green and other defensive pairs. Until Carlson can get his legs back, fewer and easier minutes for a few games may be the perfect remedy.
4) Can the team be better disciplined while at the same time standing up for itself and its goaltender?
Becca: The capability is definitely there. Through the first two games the Caps took just four minor penalties total; in Game 3, they racked up seven minor penalties. Lazy hooks, holding calls, trips in the neutral zone, all of these things need to be – and can be – erased from their game; the Caps are the faster team here, and if they’re putting forth a full effort they shouldn’t need those kinds of penalties to catch up – ticky-tack calls or no.
But more importantly, disciplined means picking their spots, limiting their minors to so-called "good" penalties. The Rangers were very clear about their intent to crowd Neuvirth after the first two games and were true to their word in Game 3, running him over and giving him extra shots whenever they could (and largely without being penalized for it). If that’s the way the Rangers are going to play, the Caps to a man need to risk being whistled for a minor in order to let it be known that they’re not going to stand for someone roughing up their goalie. If they take a Ranger down with them or get away with it, all the better, but the fact is they need to answer physicality with physicality and send a message that Neuvirth is off-limits.