While losing 3-1 to the New York Rangers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals is no need to panic Caps fans, make no mistake about it, the Game 1 two-goal loss to the Rangers looked entirely different than the Game 1 loss to the Bruins, sort of.
Saturday afternoon’s defeat should raise a few eyebrows in terms of how the Capitals blew this game, and that’s right, the Capitals blew an excellent opportunity to steal this contest. Sure, the Rangers had a little something to do with it, but not as much as you might think. In terms of shots, missed chances and poor play from the core of the roster, Washington blew an excellent opportunity to win Game 1.
You are probably reading everywhere else today how great of a job the Rangers did wearing down the Capitals, and how Henrik Lundqvist was the difference in the game. While the Rangers played a far more relentless attacking style game during the three periods on Saturday than the Capitals saw in seven games and five overtimes vs. Boston, the Capitals are the reason they are down 0-1 heading into Game 2.
Lundqvist was not great by any stretch of the imagination, and if Mike Green works on hitting the net in practice, he probably could have had a hat trick on Saturday. King Henriq was caught peeking into the cage on many occasions during the contest, and the goal scored by Jason Chimera with seconds to go in the second period was a shot this year’s lock to win the Vezina trophy stops 99 percent of the time.
Despite what you may hear that home ice does not matter during the NHL, yesterday is proof why the regular season does matter in the NHL. How important was it for the Rangers to sleep in their own beds instead of having to travel to D.C following a rough and rugged Game 7 on Thursday night. Even if it is just 200 miles, both teams showed plenty of fatigue in their games yesterday.
The two teams combined for just 10 first period shots, and had 21 through two periods. The Capitals proved to be equal to the Rangers defensive in terms of shot totals as the Rangers had just 8 of those shots through the first 40 minutes but the game was tied 1-1 heading into the third.
The Capitals power play, which had great puck movement at times, took major steps backwards in Game 1 on Saturday. The Rangers were the fifth best penalty killing team in the NHL during the regular season but yesterday allowed the Capitals nothing through the center of the ice, and in the slot while Washington enjoyed four power play chances in the first 28 minutes of play. The last two of those came in short succession, giving Washington an extremely playoff rare, two-man advantage for 34 seconds.
The Capitals failed to score, and would never get another chance with the extra man for the rest of the contest. New York gained momentum from squashing the Caps power play and less than three minutes later, the Rangers took the lead when Artem Anisimov curled around the back of the Washington net and snapped a shot past Caps goaltender Braden Holtby to give the Blueshirts a 1-0 advantage.
The Capitals, as they did in the series vs. the Bruins, seemed to elevate their game after allowing a goal. Washington continued to get secondary scoring in the post season. Even though Brooks Laich and Jason Chimera were moved to the first line by head coach dale Hunter, neither is considered a top line scoring threat. However, Laich took a loose puck from a missed Rangers shot and skated up the right wing with Chimera on his left. Peeking at the clock, which showed eight seconds, Laich flipped a beautiful pass to Chimer who beat Henrik Lundqvist to tie the game with four seconds remaining in the period.
Chimera has now scored the Caps last two playoff goals vs. the Rangers in New York. The Caps speedy forward netted the double overtime winner in Game 4 last year at Madison Square Garden to help his team complete a stunning three-goal comeback, catapulting Washington to a five game series victory.
The goal was Chimera's second of the post season, but the Capitals could not take advantage of scoring in the waning seconds of the middle frame to start the final period of play. The Capitals and Rangers continued to play a game devoid of offense, and any quality scoring chances. The teams continued to play a tight checking affair, but the Capitals seemed to be the team losing steam at a far more rapid pace.
Two weeks ago, Twenty-year-old Chris Kreider, was skating for Boston College in Tampa Florida at the Frozen Four helping his Eagles team easily win the National Championship. On Saturday, he was the hero for the New York Rangers, and if the Blueshirts win a Stanley Cup this spring, could be a major reason why. Kreider scored the game winning goal with a laser slap shot, and just 90 seconds later added an assist when Brad Richards essentially walked in on rookie net minder Braden Holtby and found plenty of room between his pads.
While Kreider deserves the credit, let us not forget how he was able to score his second goal of the post season. NHL.com called it a rare Caps breakdown in the neutral zone, well, that’s one way to put it. Apparently, Caps defenseman Mike Green does not quite have his playoff legs, as he left 37-year-old blue liner Roman Hamrlik alone to skate one-on-one Kreider down the ice. Green took off towards the Caps bench without making sure Washington maintained puck possession in their offensive zone and when Marcus Johansson failed to hustle to a loose puck, Kreider took a breakout pass and was off to the races. Green turned at the Caps bench and actually managed to get back into the play, but just not enough. Kreider fired the shot and Holtby, who was way out of his crease to cut down the angle, just missed it, as the puck found the only uncovered area of twine available for what turned out to be the game winning goal.
The description of a rare breakdown would be better served describing the Brad Richards goal that occurred 90-seconds later. In fact, the goal resembled many of the tallies Washington allowed last year during the second round when the Tampa Bay Lightning swept them.
In fact, Chimera, Laich, Dennis Wideman (surprise-surprise), and Alex Ovechkin were all seen standing around the crease after Richards walked in from the corner and beat Holtby between the legs to give his team a two-goal lead. During the first round series with the Bruins, the Capitals focused on never trailing by more than one goal. They knew that if the Bruins got up by two, the game was essentially over. Boston was 38-0-0 this past season when they owned a two-goal advantage at any point during a game, and the Caps simply never allowed it to happen. New York led by two-goals for 11:30 of Saturday’s game, or nearly four times as long as the Capitals held a two goal lead (2:54) when they led 2-0 in Game 5, which turned out to be the only two goal lead of the series.
Washington could not mount any attack to get back to within one goal and the Rangers held on to win Game 1.
SERIES NEWS, NOTES, AND OPINIONS:
THE DRIVE TO BE No.5 STALLS:
Caps rookie goalie Braden Holtby did not allow three goals in the Bruins series until he had seen 84 Boston shots. On Saturday, he allowed three goals on just 14 Ranger shots, and looked tired during the contest. The first round sensation is still having trouble with his glove hand corralling loose pucks out of the air. He hardly moved his glove on Kreider’s blast, and Holtby gave Brad Richards too much space between his pads, are all signs of a tired goalie.
It is likely that Holtby will rebound in Game 2. The Bruins never won two in row in round one, but the Rangers are a more relentless fore-checking team. New York chased Washington puck handlers all day behind the Caps net and into the corners. Last year in the first round, Caps rookie Michael Neuvirth allowed just eight goals in five games vs. New York. He posted one shutout (Game 2) as the Rangers fired almost 30 shots per game at Neuvy. Whether or not fatigue was a factor for Neuvirth during the second round is still unknown, but he was not the same goalie from the start of the series vs. Tampa Bay.
Neuvirth allowed 15-goals in four games (1 EN) as the Bolts averaged two shots less per contest. Holtby does not exert as much energy in the crease as Neuvy. Holtby stays on feet much more and challenges shooters better by standing up and cutting down angles. Neuvirth does have a far better glove hand. Holtby is the man for head coach Dale Hunter as he tries to become just the fifth rookie to lead his team to a Stanley Cup title in NHL history.
Holtby can take solace knowing that Hall Of Fame back stopper Ken Dryden (1971) allowed more than three goals six times during the post season, and never played in a series less than six games when he became the first rookie to accomplish the feat. Carolina’s Cam Ward, who became the third goalie on the short list to win a cup as a rookie, didn’t even begin the post season as the starter, as Martin Gerber struggled mightily as the Canes fell behind Montreal 0-2 to start the playoffs. Ward, when he did finally play, allowed three goals on the first 13 shots he faced during a first round game vs. the Montreal Canadiens. Ward had a few bad games; he allowed four goals on just 17 New Jersey Devil shots during a Game 4 loss in the Eastern Conference finals.
Two years ago, the Chicago Blackhawks were not even sure Annti Niemi was going to be the starter. Hawks fans wanted Cristobal Huet, but he could not stop a beach ball in front of a trashcan. Niemi was not great during the Hawks run, but he was timely. He posted a 2.63 GAA and a.910 save percentage, both considered high for a Stanley Cup winning goalie. He was not even brought back the following season, as he signed with the San Jose Sharks as a free agent.
If Holtby is looking for numbers by a rookie during the post season as inspiration, he may want to check out what Patrick Roy did during the 1986 Stanley Cup Playoffs. In leading the Habs to their 24 title, Roy was sensational from start to finish. He played every minute during the 86 playoffs and was 15-5 with a 1.92 GAA and a .923 save percentage. He posted one shutout and did all of this as a rookie with the most storied franchise in NHL history.
THE LITTLE THINGS:
During the Caps first round upset of the Bruins, Washington essentially beat Boston at their own game. They won face-offs at critical times, and while they did not win the hits battle, they stayed close enough to let the B’s know they were not going to be intimidated. Washington blocked more shots than Boston and was seen out hustling Bruins skaters to loose pucks late in games.
The Capitals led all playoff teams with 60 takeaways during the first round and by executing the “little things” and playing this way, Washington forced the Bruins to play nearly prefect. Boston could not sustain their play because of injuries and not having the same team they did last year when they won the Cup. The Capitals took advantage of mistakes and are now in the second round.
While the Capitals did some of the little things on Saturday, they didn’t do them all with consistency. When Washington didn’t do the little things well, the Rangers “capitalized”. The Rangers won the faceoff battle with Washington, and although it was only by two, Brooks Laich and Keith Aucoin, who were faceoff stalwarts in round one, combined to win just three of 11 draws in New York.
The Capitals continued to play relatively mistake free in terms of giveaways and takeaways. Washington committed just four giveaways, but could only force six takeaways. During the Bruins series, the Capitals averaged 8.5 per contest, and do not discount the importance of this stat. The Kreider goal was the result of a Washington give away in their own zone.
Where Washington really missed opportunities was in front of the net, as Henrik Lundqvist seemed to leave many pucks out front. He does not usually do this, as King Henriq also showed signs of fatigue in Game 1.
The Capitals must get better at hitting the net with their shots. Washington had 49 shot attempts for the game to New York’s 47, and had just 18 shots on goal. Although that is only one more than they had in a 1-0 Game 1 overtime loss to the Bruins in Boston in the first round, this was a far more opportunistic game for the Caps in terms of shot attempts. Boston’s best defensive game was Game 1 and it stands to reason as the defending were opening up at home to start this year’s post season.
The Caps (139 in round 1) and Rangers (155 in round 1) continued to be the shot blocking machines they were in the first round as the two teams were first and second in that category. Each blocked 15 shots and forced a plethora of missed chances. The Caps missed the net 16 times, including three that hit the post, and New York missed the net 18 times. Despite Rangers forwards attempting just 30 total shots on the day, and managing to get only eight of them on net, three went in.
Washington’s blueliners, who were substantially better this season in terms of scoring, were able to get only five of their 25 shot tries on the day through to the net, and that must improve, especially from Mike Green, who missed three shots on the day.
Washington’s 10 defenseman combined for 30 goals and 112 assists for 142 points in the team’s 82 games this season. They also contributed at least one point in 62 of Washington’s games this year, and combined to score 20 more points this season than they amassed last season (28 goals, 93 assists).
The little things are going to make the difference in this series and while the Caps were not bad with them on Saturday, they were nearly perfect in execution through seven games vs. the Bruins.
SCORING FIRST IS CRUCIAL:
Since Dale Hunter took over as head coach on Nov. 28, the Capitals went 25-3-5 when scoring first. Washington went 23-1-4 when leading after the first period, which ranked fifth in the NHL and the Caps went 25-0-1 when leading after two periods, third in the NHL (.962 win percentage). During the first round, Washington scored the first goal in five of the seven games. Game ones first goal was the game winner in overtime by Boston’s Chris Kelly.
The Rangers were 4-2 in the first round when they scored first, while the Caps were 4-1. This past season New York was 35-5-3 when scoring the game’s first goal.
CORE FOUR FAIL TO SHOW:
While the Capitals got great play from their secondary players during the opening round of the playoffs, the play of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Semin, and Mike Green was critical to the Caps success. The Core four combined to record 14-points, and was a plus 4 during the series. Yesterday, all four stunk, and if they continue to play collectively as they did during yesterday’s contest, the Capitals do not stand a chance in this series.
Alex Semin seemed to return to the same old aloof Semin we love to hate at times. In fact, he and his good friend, the other Alex, committed three of the team’s four minor penalties on the day. All three were either lazy plays or retaliation penalties. Semin blew a Caps early power play when he threw an unnecessary retaliatory slash on Ryan Callahan just 30 seconds into the Caps man advantage.
The four were not very effective during the game although Backstrom was his usual amazing self in the faceoff circle winning 6-of-10 draws.
LINE SHUFFLE, ORLOV TO POSSIBLY MAKE PLAYOFF DEBUT:
According to the Washington Post, and because of his play, Alex Semin has been demoted to the Caps fourth line. According to Katie Carrera, “Semin has dropped to the fourth line a day after he took a pair of careless penalties in Game 1. It’s doubtful those two facts are unrelated as the demotion is likely a message to the Russian winger to get back to the discipline he showed in the first round.”
Carrera tell us that,” Semin’s demotion for practice caused a ripple effect. Jason Chimera is now on the second line, Joel Ward on the third and Troy Brouwer moved up to the first.”
There has also been an adjustment to the defensive pairings. The third duo is now Dennis Wideman with Jeff Schultz and John Erskine, who played in Game 1, is now skating with rookie Dmitry Orlov. The Caps rookie defenseman played in 60 games this season and had 16 assists and 19 points. He had stretches of consistency and inconsistency but did not play at all during the first round.
Hunters pairing of Schultz and Wideman is scary considering the two were on the ice together for all but four of Boston’s 5-on-5 goals during the series and were a combined minus-8 during the opening series. Wideman was actually on the ice for all of the Bruins even strength goals but Schultz missed three games as a healthy scratch.
Defensive pairings: Alzner-Carlson, Hamrlik-Green, Schultz-Wideman and Erskine-Orlov.
CAPITALS CORNER PRE-GAME EDITION:
Join me at 6:30 on Monday as I bring you Capitals Corner pre-game show.
Joining me will be John Ames from Fan vs. Fan's "On the Ice". John and I will break down Game 1 and tell you what the Capitals need to do in order to tie the series.
We will also get you up to date on what is happening around the NHL with the other semifinal playoff series. Capitals Corner pre-game coverage will be on the air as long as the Capitals are in the playoffs.
Coverage is always one hour prior to opening faceoff. Monday, and Wednesdays show will be at 6:30, and Saturday's show will be 11:30 a.m.
STATS FROM THE CAPS WEB SITE:
Each team had a dozen shots on goal at even strength in the game. The Caps outshot New York 6-2 with the man advantage …Karl Alzner led the Caps with 23:33 in ice time and three blocked shots in Game 1 … Alexander Semin had three shots on net to lead the Caps … Backstrom won 10 fo 16 (63%) face-offs and Matt Hendricks won four of six (67%) … Hendricks led the Caps with five hits … New York outhit Washington 35-28. Ryan Callahan led the way for the Rangers with eight hits … Richards led all forwards on both sides with 23:16 in ice time.