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Capitals vs Rangers Game 1: What Worked and What Didn't

Heading into Game Two, we take a look at what worked and what didn't for the Washington Capitals in the first go 'round.

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Plenty familiar with the trek up 1-95N from their seven game, two week series against the New York Islanders, this time the Caps boarded the bus to meet up with another New York team in another New York barn— neither of which with they needed any familiarizing.

The Caps played one of their best games of this postseason (which is saying something), and got the series off on the right foot against an opponent that plenty around the League— to say nothing of professional oddsmakers— envision hoisting the Cup.

Like we did in Round 1, let's take a dive into what worked and what didn't in this series' first installment.

What Worked

  • The Singular Effort of Alex Ovechkin
On a night when the National Broadcast Corporation had a difficult time advancing their narrative past, "The immaculate teammate, Alex Ovechkin, is a reformed hockey player", it was two superlative individual efforts from The Great Eight that made the difference in this one. The first, an absolutely blistering wrist shot on the rush, on the power play, that made Dan Boyle look like mince meat, and was in and out of the net before Henrik Lundqvist knew the puck had been fired.

The second— entering the zone by himself against four Rangers defenders, and still ending up with the puck on his stick— was more vintage Ovechkin. The unbelievable reverse feed to Joel Ward, which Ward slipped under Lundqvist's pad for the game-winner, was transcendental. Doggedness, vision, timing, skill— so many of Ovechkin's strengths on display in one play. One very important play.

But it wasn't just Ovechkin...

  • Power versus Power
As they managed to do on more than one occasion against John Tavares and company, the Caps' big guns handily outplayed the Rangers' top artillery. Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Joel Ward respectively had shot-attempt percentages of 67, 60, and 65.

And they did it primarily against Rick Nash, Derrick Brassard, and Martin St. Louis. Here, their dominance is visualized courtesy of Muneeb.

Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi didn't have much success either. And remember, Ranger bench boss Alain Vigneault had last change— on the whole, he was getting the matchups he wanted. They weren't working. Apart from the game winning goal, and wholesale possession domination, Joel Ward and Alex Ovechkin both rang pucks off pipes, and Lundqvist made a ten-beller on Nicklas Backstrom.

  • Braden Holtby
Braden Holtby didn't have to be great— a testament to overall solid play in front of him— but he did have to be good, particular on several instances where Rangers' forwards outworked the Caps' defenders in front of the net and got in good position for some tricky deflections. Braden didn't cough up many juicy rebounds, and the only goal scored against him on 32 shots took what seemed like an impossible path to the net, and came on the tail end of a 1:35 shift from Matt Niskanen.

Apart from the win, Holtby's effort bumped his save percentage up to a playoff-leading (among first round game one starters) .947%. He also took a stick to the throat for his troubles.

  • The Penalty Kill
Two more in the books. Let's say as little as possible about this, lest we break its fragile perfection.

  • 5v5 Shot Quality
As evidenced by WAR on Ice's shot plot, the Caps inhabited the danger areas of their offensive zone, while keeping the Rangers' mostly to the perimeter on the other end of the ice (though Kevin Hayes proved that a perimeter shot can be plenty dangerous with traffic in front). They outchanced the Rangers at even strength 31 to 23— a dominant 57.4 SCF%.

What Didn't Work

  • Unnecessary Icings
The Capitals iced the puck 8 times in this game, including 3 in a 22 second span in the third period. Several of these weren't a case of the Caps' being hemmed in their own end, needing to throw the puck down the ice to catch a breather. Instead, the icings were comprised of a series of sloppy breakout passes, too-strong chips up the ice, or in the case of one Brooks Laich icing, a simply non-sensical throwing off the puck down the rink, with an uncontested path to the red line in front of him.

One of these icings was what kept Matt Niskanen on the ice for so longer prior to the Jesper Fast goal. The Caps' need to clean things up exiting their own zone— it hurt them last night, and it will hurt them again.

  • Matt Niskanen and Karl Alzner
As good a night as it was for their position-mates, John Carlson and Brooks Orpik, it was an unremarkable evening for the Niskanen/Alzner pairing. These two saw a bit of the Rick Nash line, and a lot of the Derek Stepan line, and saw the ice tilted in the wrong direction during both matchups. Niskanen was out there for the Jesper Fast goal, though as we noted above, some carelessness from his teammates probably put him in that situation.

The Rangers are a stacked offensively, and the Caps can't rely on Orpik and Carlson to put up a ~60 CF% night in and night out. Niskanen and Alzner are going to have to ice a better product than they did last night, or Stepan, Chris Kreider, and JT Miller are going to start feasting.

  • Defensive Zone Draws
The Caps entered Game 1 as the most successful team in the dot during the playoffs. Last night, things didn't go so well, and particularly in the defensive zone, where they went just 9 for 22 (40.9%), highlighted by Nick Backstrom's 3 for 10 outing. If the Caps' pivots don't step up their game in their own dots, the Rangers are going to be perfectly content to fire those soft perimeter shots into Braden Holtby's glove to set up the draw. John Tavares and his linemates did plenty of damage off the draw. Between the icings and the lost draws in game 1, this is something worth keeping an eye on.


The goods far outweighed the bads in this one, and the final outcome— stealing home ice away from the top seed to start a series— is a great reward for a strong effort throughout the lineup. On Saturday the Caps have an opportunity to bring a commanding two game lead back to the Verizon Center. Wouldn't that be nice?