Tue 1 May 2012
Noted hockey scribe Yogi Berra would have described Game 2 of the Rangers-Capitals series as “déjà vu all over again” because it was a repeat of a couple of games we have seen in these playoffs. It mixed in the ill-timed “own goal” of Game 2 of the Ottawa series – a 3-2 road win – and it mixed in the “iron play” of Game 1.
Capitals rookie goaltender Braden Holtby showed that he has a post-playing career as a hockey analyst.
“You look at the difference in the two games … We hit two posts last game, and they hit two this game. That’s how close it is. … the hockey gods were on our side tonight,” he explained to Rick Carpiniello of the Journal News.
No one can fault the Rangers for not taking the game to the Capitals. They were physical on the forecheck and were the more active team offensively as they had more attempted shots than Washington by a wide margin (65-46, including 25-13 in the third period).
The game came down to four components that all went against the Rangers.
The first came as a result of a bad play by Stu Bickel whose foolish cross-ice pass at the Caps blue line turned into a three-on-two rush capped off (pun intended) by Mike Knuble. Bickel need to make the safe, and smart, play and get the puck deep along the boards. Needless to say, Bickel saw just one more shirt the entire game and might be a scratch when the series resumes Wednesday night at the Verizon Center.
The second break that went against the Rangers might be the turning point of the game. At one end of the ice, Holtby turns aside Chris Kreider’s breakaway as he stepped out of the penalty box and at the other end luck and happenstance favored the Capitals as Jason Chimera pin-balled a shot off Ryan McDonagh’s skates and into the net.
Henrik Lundqvist was caught in no-man’s land when he went behind the net to touch the puck. He had to wait for the puck to get to the trapezoid or risk taking another penalty. Chimera’s speed on the forecheck forced the eventual turnover.
The third factor was Alexander Ovechkin stepping up in a big situation to score the eventual game-winning goal on the power play.
“I was surprised when I turned and no one came to me,” Ovechkin said. “I had a perfect lane for the shot, and I see it and I’m going to the net.”
Well, Ovechkin had a little help thanks to Nicklas Backstrom’s “subtle” pick play on Brian Boyle after winning the faceoff back to Ovechkin.
I am not going to on an anti-Rangers bias rant over the Capitals two third period power play chances. Rather than it being anti-Ranger calls, it just another case of NHL referees looking to even up penalty calls to the point of looking for calls to make.
Give Ovechkin credit, he did what all superstars do. When the game is on the line, they rise to the occasion.
He’s our big-game guy. He’s got to be scoring for us to do well. That was a great moment for him,” Knuble told Whyno. “Great timing. Timing is everything, I think, in this game and playoffs. Having guys score at the right time and your big guys scoring and feeling great going into the next game can do a lot.”
For example, Richards probably did deserve his penalty – even though John Carlson initiated the contact. My question is how do you rule that “holding” as opposed to “interference”? Not that it matters, but it is frustrating to watch referees make up a call to justify a penalty.
The final breaks that went against the Rangers were the two shots that Michael Del Zotto rang off the iron.
The Capitals Game 2 victory is proof positive that Coach Dale Hunter has completely transformed his team. Despite seven shots and the game-winning goal, the Caps captain saw only 13:36 of ice time, a career low for him. In fact, six other forwards saw more ice time that Ovie, including Jay Beagle who played 19:58.
“We all want to win. And he’ll do whatever it needs to be. Tonight not too many guys could’ve scored that goal from way out there,” Hunter said to Stephen Whyno of the Washington Times. “So every time he’s on the ice he’s dangerous. He doesn’t need to have too much ice to score goals …. Four lines and six D were all going tonight. They were all going hard, so it’s easy to play everybody.”
While the Capitals big gun fired, the Rangers top goal scorer continues to struggle to find his scoring touch. While he did register the primary assist on Brad Richards’ first period goal, Marian Gaborik has not scored since Game 1. His job is not going to get any easier as the series switches to Washington – thus giving Hunter the final change.
It will be interesting to see if Rangers Coach John Tortorella continues to juggle his first two lines like he did in the third period when the Blueshirts were trailing. He flipped Kreider and Gaborik and might look to do that again on the road. The Richards-Kreider-Carl Hagelin is intriguing because of the speed they bring to the game – an asset that can really be used to get in heavy on the forecheck.
Of course, Tortorella was not going to give anything away in the post-game press conference. His answers were more curt that usual as his frustration over his teams’ lack of discipline came to the forefront.
“You fight back to tie the game as hard as we did, you can’t take four minutes in penalties. You’re not going to win hockey games like that,” lamented the Adams Trophy finalist.
One task that Tortorella must accomplish is finding a way to get Artem Anisimov more than 4:58 of ice time – especially in a game where the Rangers are trailing. No disrespect to Ruslan Fedotenko or Brandon Prust, but they could have used Anisimov’s offensive ability as seen in his Matteau-esque Game 1 goal.
One thing I want to see the Rangers do is replicate their strategy on their power play goal. With the Capitals’ forwards being very aggressive on the puck, the Rangers need to move the puck, and themselves, quickly in order to catch the Washington forwards running around. At the same time, they also need to station a forward at the high slot to either draw a defenseman out high or to get a forward to slide down – which will either opening up space down low or alleviate the pressure on the Rangers’ point men.
On the power play goal, Callahan is in front to deflect Del Zotto’s shot while Gaborik is at the hashmarks.
Looking ahead to Game 3, the Rangers need to do the little things that they did in Game 2 – especially the way they pounded the Capitals in their own end. If they keep banging away on Mike Green, they are going to get more calls against him and will cause even more turnovers in the Capitals’ zone.
We will give the final word to Ryan Callahan.
“We have to grate more. It’s a matter of trying to win every battle,” the captain told Katie Carrera of the Washington Post. “All year we responded after losses and this is no different. It’s a tough place to play in Washington. They usually come out strong there. We’re going to have to be ready.”
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