Despite being favored by most of the advanced stats community to win this series, the Rangers find themselves down 2-0 to the Washington Capitals and have looked very sloppy in both losses. They outplayed the Caps in Game One and didn't come away with the results they were hoping for, but the Rangers were just bad yesterday. The Caps weren't much better despite having a massive advantage in shots on goal and 5v5 territorial play, but the Rangers were just flat out brutal for most of this game. The Rangers strong even strength play during the regular season is the reason why I picked them to win this series, and they ended up getting outshot by 10 by a team who is struggled with puck-possession.
As bad as the Rangers played, they may have been a goalpost or two away from stealing a victory thanks to the play of Henrik Lundqvist and the Capitals not being able to create many scoring chances out of their zone time. Washington seemed to revert back to their form in last year's playoffs and focused more on shutting down Rick Nash's line after he ran wild on them in Game One. They succeeded with this task, as they were able to contain the Rangers for most of the game and hold their offense to only 13 total scoring chances. I thought the Caps could have done a better job of generating better chances and testing Lundqvist during regulation, but from a defensive standpoint, they did a great job and the fact that they had the puck a lot more is never a bad thing in a playoff game .
The Rangers still have two home games to make a series out of this and the gameplan they had for today's game worked for the most part, so I wouldn't be surprised if we see more low-event games the rest of the way. It might suit them well to get more traffic in front of Lundqvist since they took a lot of shots from the point and from bad angles that were easily steered aside by the Ranger netminder. It's not a bad strategy since the Rangers had the scoring areas covered well, but those shots only do so much if there's no one going for the rebounds. The Caps might be able to make this a quick series if they can win the scoring chance battle on the road but I'm expecting to see a different Ranger team in Game Three.
New York Rangers at Washington Capitals Game 2
The Caps didn't exactly dominate the Rangers in scoring chances but there were a couple things that happened which played to their advantage. The first one being the Rangers inability to finish, which was a huge problem in Game One, as well. New York was able to gain some steam in the third period after being flat for the previous 35 minutes and failed to convert on most of their chances, Nash had the best chance of the game and it ended up going off the post. The other was special teams play. The Rangers failed to record a single scoring chance in six minutes of power play time including the one they were given less than two minutes into the overtime period. Washington's power play was also ineffective for the first 60 minutes, but once they were given an opportunity in OT, they made it count. Special teams is the one area where the Caps could gain the upper-hand in this series and it's played a huge factor in both games.
Rangers Individual Scoring Chances
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Best EV Forward: Daroll Powe +3
Worst EV Forward: Derek Stepan -4
Best EV Defenseman: Steve Eminger +5
Worst EV Defenseman: Ryan McDonagh -7
Moving Nash to the Stepan line in the third period helped the Rangers a little bit since that unit looked very strong towards the end of the game. Unfortunately, their top two centers still got outchanced at evens and Stepan took a huge beating defensively. Stepan, Callahan & Hagelin have been the keys to the Rangers strong possession game and all three were unable to carry the mail yesterday. Nash still had a strong game thanks to a good third period, but I thought the Caps did a good job of keeping him held in check before that and not many of the Rangers top-nine forwards were able to tilt the ice in their favor. When fourth liners are the only ones with positive scoring chance differentials, then you know the team struggled.
The rangers top defense pairing also struggled yesterday with Ryan McDonagh & Dan Girardi being on the ice for half of the Caps even strength chances. McDonagh in particular had a very rough game and he committed the delay of game penalty which led to the game-winning goal. This came after he was on the ice for a shift that lasted over three minutes long and he was completely gassed by that point. It's a little strange that McDonagh was being forced to stay on the ice that long because most of the Rangers other defensemen had very strong performances. Girardi & McDonagh still played the bulk of tough minutes, though and the team's performance goes with them.
Capitals Individual Scoring Chances
Best EV Forwards: Marcus Johansson & Nicklas Backstrom +7
Worst EV Forward: Mike Ribeiro -6
Best EV Defenseman: John Carlson +4
Worst EV Defenseman: John Erskine -2
What a game by the Caps first line. They could have done a lot more if Johansson & Backstrom didn't literally pass up two or three clear shots on goal in favor of making a more finesse play. NBC praised this line & Ovechkin in particular for their play in all three zones and while I notice Ovechkin make a couple of good plays on the back-check, this line's offensive firepower was their best defense. Whenever they were on the ice, they usually had the puck and had the Rangers pinned into their own zone. Great offense can be the best defense in hockey and Ovechkin's line was forced to defend only 20% of the time because of how much they dominated the Rangers territorially.
Ovechkin had an impressive game but the best player on the ice other than both goalies was John Carlson. He played a strong game in his own end and had a pretty stunning offensive output for a defenseman. Carlson created four scoring chances on his own and was on the ice for ten of them at even strength alone. Carlson & Ovechkin were the main reasons why the Caps were able to dictate the territorial play as much as they did and it's really impressive to see how much Carlson's game has improved as such a young age. Although, I still don't think pairing him with John Erskine in a tough-minute role is the best way to go. He was still on the ice for quite a few chances and most of them came when he was paired with Erskine against one of the Rangers top two lines.
Unfortunately, all the good work done by the Caps first line was almost undone by their second and fourth lines, who wereaboth crushed at even strength. Much like the first line kept the Rangers hemmed in, the Caps second line spent most of this game trapped in their own end & they really struggled to move the puck out. Possession isn't this line's strong suit and while I thought Erat would improve this a little, it sure didn't work out that way here. At last Brouwer & Ribeiro were able to make up for some of the damage on the power play.
Head-to-Head at Five-on-Five
Oates didn't have any key forward matchup since the Rangers shuffled their lines throughout the game, but it didn't matter since the Backstrom line was a wrecking crew. They crushed Girardi/McDonagh and even got a few shifts against the Rangers third defense pairing, who they ended up flattening. Carlson also did a great job against the Stepan line, which was his main matchup for most of the game.
John Tortorella will have his turn to play the matchup game once this series goes to Madison Square Garden and he might want to keep an eye on how Nash & Stepan performed against Mike Ribeiro's line because that's something he can expose. Riberio, Brouwer & Erat aren't great defensively and Oates was still content with using them against one of the Rangers top-two lines and while it didn't result in any Ranger goals, they were getting plenty of chances against this trio.
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