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Capitals vs Rangers Game 4: What Worked and What Didn't

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

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

They did it again. He did it again— the likely hero Braden Holtby standing strong for long enough for an unlikely hero to emerge and cement a victory that will go in the books as a huge win, regardless of the whats, hows, and whys that tell the more detailed story. Right now the biggest story is that the 2nd place Metropolitan division team Washington Capitals have a 3-1 series lead over the President's Trophy winning New York Rangers, but it takes a lot of little stories to get there.

Like we did in Game 1Game 2, and Game 3, let's take a look at what worked and what didn't in Game 4.

What Worked

  • Superlative Goaltending
You knew this was going to kick off the "what worked' section. Your fat cat knew this was going to kick off the "what worked" section. So did your mom, and so did any New York Rangers players who may be catching up on their Caps' coverage on off days. Braden Holtby was superb once again— this time dialing up a save on a Carl Hagelin penalty shot that should quickly become a signature moment on Holtby highlight reels everywhere— and, for at least the 2nd time this series, completely stole a victory in a game in which his team was outplayed by a considerable margin.

Braden Holtby is the Caps' current best player, hands down. That means they have a chance to win every game. And they have some pretty great players not named Braden Holtby...and that bodes well.

  • Staying Out of the Penalty Box
The Rangers' power play wasn't particularly strong this year, finishing 21st in the NHL, but in both Caps' series so far, the man advantages have been at an absolute premium. During the regular season, neither team had a particularly high volume of opportunities— in fact, both we're in the League's bottom seven. The Caps' penalty kill has obvious been phenomenal, leading the playoffs with a 95.6% kill rate. It's easier to keep that up when you only go down a man once a game, like they did on Wednesday night.

And bear in mind that the Rangers have 29 power plays in these playoffs, compared to the Capitals 19, despite the Rangers having played in two fewer games. If the refs have decided to put the whistles away for the remainder of the series (but funny how they have a habit of reappearing in New York), it might not be the worst thing for the Caps, even considering their own lethal power play.

  • A Different Hero Every Night
As we detailed in yesterday's Nooner, the Caps have seven different game winning goal scorers in seven playoff victories this Spring. When Braden Holtby has been as good as he's been, the secondary scoring doesn't need to come in troves— it just needs to come. And it has been, one goal at a time...or last night, two goals at a time.

First Evgeny Kuznetsov against the Islanders, and now Andre Burakovsky against Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers, becoming the youngest Cap to score twice in the same playoff game since Marcus Johansson did it in 2011, also against the Rangers. For Barry Trotz to have rolled out the "different heroes" motto as the playoffs started, and for the game winners to have shaken out the way they have, is really pretty remarkable.

What Didn't Work

  • Slow Starts
This is the affliction that just won't go away for the Washington Capitals, and especially against the New York Rangers (as I went into in more detail in the Game 3 What Worked/What Didn't). Isn't there an over-the-counter cream they can just rub on this or something?

The Caps were out-attempted 14-26 in the first period. Just add it to the list. It's also worth noting that before last night, the Caps had failed to win a single game against the Rangers' this season (regular season and playoffs both), when they didn't score first. The Rangers did eventually break through, despite Holtby's best efforts. Then the Caps stormed back.

And then came the latest iteration of an infuriatingly recurrent theme...

  • Am I Not Turtle-y Enough For The Turtle Club
Granted, the last little flurry there came 6 on 5, but regardless, the Caps continue to sit on their heels in close games, relying on blocked shots and stout goaltending to bring home the bacon. It's worked so far, but hemorrhaging shots against doesn't tend to be a sustainable pathway to victory...especially when the opponent was the 2nd best in the League at scoring goals this year when trailing by one.

  • The Second Line
This line, and particularly Evgeny Kuznetsov, has had it's fair few moments so far in this postseason. Game 4 held precisely none of them, as they were dominated all night by Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, and Jesper Fast. All three Caps' second liners— Jason Chimera, Kuznetsov, and Marcus Johansson, finished the game with a sub-30 CF%, despite being the line that took the largest percentage of their draws in the offensive zone. That's not a good look, and with Jason Chimera showing none of the spark he exibited earlier in the playoffs (and so often in his career against the Rangers), it might be worth letting Andre Burakovsky have a taste of those bigger minutes.

It was yet another game where, if they were listed in their entirety, the "what worked" would be handily outweighed by the "what didn't work" on the scales of objectivity. But that matters a whole lot less when the team is riding a hot goaltender, and receiving timely and diverse scoring. They've got a 3-1 series lead on the best team in hockey, and the ends to those means couldn't matter less...particularly if they can find a way to do it one more time. They'll take their fifth crack at the Rangers tonight.