Thu 16 Apr 2009
The New York Rangers 4-3 win in Game 1 against the Washington Capitals made a little bit of history last night.
No, it had nothing to do with the Rangers power play matching the Capitals power play goal-for-goal (actually two goals-for-two goals).
No, it has nothing to do with Henrik Lundqvist outplaying Jose Theodore in goal (more on the Caps netminder in the accompanying article).
No, the bit of history had to do with the Rangers win itself.
Entering last nightâ€™s Game 1, the Rangers had only won two of their last 14 series openers (2007 against Atlanta and 2008 against the New Jersey Devils). Interestingly enough, the Blueshirts won eight of those 14 series. By the way, the last series opening win before that streak was in 1994 when the Rangers defeated Washington.
The easiest way to sum up the Rangers Game 1 victory is to say that they won in spite of themselves. While their power play did match the Capitals, the Blueshirts will not be long for this series if they continue to give Washington seven power play attempts per game. As bad as that was, the types of penalties were even worse. There is no excuse for committing four offensive penalties. The Rangers are fortunate that their gritty performance covered up the mountain of undisciplined penalties, or the Rangers would be regretting let Game 1 slip through their fingers.
â€œOur power play has fought us the past couple of months. Our PK is going to have to be good. I’m not sure how penalties we took, but it was too many,â€ John Tortorella told Dan Rosen of nhl.com.
â€œIt’s too dangerous with that group they put out there. I thought the penalty killers did everything they possibly could, especially at the end those last two at the end to keep the puck out of the net. Our PP is going to have to score a big goal at a certain time to stay in there. So special teams, especially at the end, killing was very good tonight.”
In addition for their penchant for taking too many offensive zone penalties, the Rangers were taking too many at inopportune times. Twice they were whistled for penalties in the opening minute of a period â€“ and it cost them in the third period when the Capitals tied the game as they erased a two-goal deficit.
The Rangers need to buckle down when they get the lead or they risk repeating losing games like they did against the Caps (blowing a 4-0 lead) and the Thrashers (blowing a 4-1 lead). And it isnâ€™t that long ago the Rangers lost a 3-0 lead to the Pittsburgh Penguins in last yearâ€™s playoffs â€“ a loss that set the stage for the Blueshirts elimination.
Tortorella spoke to Rosen about the Caps inevitable surge for a comeback.
“That team is going to surge,” Tortorella said. “It’s a matter of reclaiming your momentum with some simple plays, maybe your forecheck, holding on to the puck. It’s not about scoring a goal right away. It’s about getting your game back.”
All was not negative for the Rangers. They showed a moxie that this team did not show all that often when faced with adversity. It was something Ryan Callahan addressed with Rosen.
“It was one of the things we talked about before the game. We knew they were going to have their spurts. It’s how we control ourselves and maintain ourselves during them and I think we did a pretty good job of that. (Lundqvist) came up with some real key saves during that time. It was definitely a boost for us to weather it and continue on.”
In baseball, they say momentum is as good as your next gameâ€™s pitcher. In hockey, your momentum is as good as your goaltender is and Lundqvist helped stem the tide â€“ something Theodore could not do.
Of course, Lundqvist had a little bit of help from his friends. With captain Chris Drury out of the lineup, Scott Gomez stepped up and flashed some of his big-game ability with a goal and two assists. His speed and playmaking abilities had the Caps back on their skates for most of the night.
The same can be said for Callahan who has come into his won this season. Callahan was at his physical best and beat Theodore twice only to have his shots ring off the post.
The much-maligned duo of Wade Redden Michal Rozsival stepped up and played their best games a defense pairing. With Tortorella unable, and at times unwilling, to match Marc Staal and Daniel Girardi on Alexander Ovechkin, the veterans stepped up to eat up a chunk of ice time.
â€œI thought Marc and Danny were a little nervous,â€ Tortorella explained to Larry Brooks of the NY Post. â€œThatâ€™s why Redden [27:35] and Rozsival [28:15] got that chunk of ice time and I thought that helped.â€
Tortorella might have to employ both sets of defensemen if the Rangers hope to contain (never mind stop) Alexander Ovechkin – especially when the Rangers are on the road and the Capitals have the last change. The Caps superstar finished the night with 26:07 of ice time, 13 shots and a whole host of hits. What is really incredible is that Ovechkin had 10 more shots blocked and missed the target five times.
“With both of them, one of the key things in their game, they were willing to take a hit to make a play, protected the puck well and we were probably more successful with them getting out of our end zone,” the Rangers coach told Steve Zipay of Newsday on Thursday. “Their game was really good. That’s why they ended up with the minutes. Reds and Rosy really stabilized us when they were coming at us pretty hard.”
While Ovechkin had a lot of time, he finished second on the team has offensive defenseman Mike Green drew 30:37 minutes of ice time.
Looking forward to Game 2, the Blueshirts must stay out of the penalty box. The constant stream of undisciplined penalties not only shifts momentum to the Capitals, but it also puts extra pressure and ice time on the penalty killers.
Another facet of the game that the Rangers must tighten up is their faceoff performance. The Rangers won just 20 of 66 faceoffs (30%) and sorely missed Chris Drury, who is still listed as day-to-day with his undisclosed injury. The only bright spot was Brandon Dubinsky going five for ten on defensive zone draws.
Speaking of Drury, the Rangers victory buys the Rangers a couple of extra days for the captain to recover. With a win in their back pocket, Tortorella can be cautious and sit Drury on Saturday with his return targeted for Monday night.
It is interesting that Druryâ€™s injury actually played a key part to the victory. If Drury were healthy, Brandon Dubinsky might not have been on the ice to undress Jeff Schultz for the game-winner.
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