Sat 5 May 2012
The one thing that we can take away from the New York Rangers 3-2 loss in Game 4 to the Washington Capitals is that momentum does not carry over from game to game. If that were the case, it would have been the Rangers who stormed the Verizon Center during the first period on Saturday afternoon.
Instead, it was Washington that carried the play during a first period that saw the Capitals outshoot the Rangers 14-3, and more importantly, lead the Rangers 1-0 on an Alexander Ovechkin shot that goaltender Henrik Lundqvist would love to have back.
You can also bet that rookie winger Chris Kreider wishes he could have a mulligan on the play that led to Ovechklin’s 40-foot slapshot. While the NBC announcers thought Kreider was looking to pass to Brian Boyle, it appeared that Kreider rushed the play because he was feeling pressure. Rather than take his time to work the puck along the boards, he went cross-ice with the puck.
Ovechkin’s goal went against the tenor of a series that has seen nine of the 12 previous goals scored from the low slot or in front of the net.
Two of the Capitals three Game 4 goals would be scored from the outside with only Nicklas Backstrom’s goal being the lone tally from the high-traffic area.
In my preview to Game 4, I wrote that the Rangers needed to win the special teams battle. Unfortunately for the Rangers and their fans, they lost that battle and ended up losing the war on Mike Green’s power play goal.
Washington is a tough team to defeat when their Big Four are going. On Saturday afternoon, three of the Big Four struck for goals and Alexander Semin was very active during the game.
It remains to be seen in the Big Four will get a chance to play a part in Game 5. It all depends on Brendan Shanahan and the NHL calling a disciplinary hearing for Ovechkin’s hit on Dan Girardi. There was no question that Ovechkin left his feet and that Girardi’s head was the first impact. Then again, it was pretty clear that Chris Neil deserved a suspension for his hit to Boyle’s head in the Ottawa series.
While Ovechkin will get the benefit of the (superstar) doubt, he is a repeat offender and was nailed with a three-game suspension for leaving his feet to hit Pittsburgh’s Zbynek Michalek in January.
It will be interesting to see how Shanahan and his minions spin their way out of suspending Ovechkin. In the end, Shanny will probably levy one of his patented $2,500 fines.
I am not a fortuneteller, nor do I play one on TV, but Shanahan will probably question exactly what the impact point of the hit was and will reference the fact that Girardi was not hurt. Of course, that goes contrary to his ruling on the Neil-Boyle hit, but the NHL’s Director of Player Safety (talk about oxymorons) never let the facts get in the way of a good explanation.
While the puck was at his feet, it did not appear that Ovechkin made a concerted effort to play the puck. To me, it seemed like he was more intent on delivering a big hit.
“It hit me in the head first,” Girardi told Andrew Gross of The Record. “I’m not the judge of that (whether or not it should have been more than a minor). You guys can make your comments about that. I don’t know, they called a penalty on it, that’s all I know.”
As you might expect, Ovechkin had a different opinion on the hit.
“I just missed the puck. I tried to kick the puck and I saw he was coming, so I just got to protect myself,” the Capitals captain said to Gross.
You have to admit that leaping and launching yourself at a player, and hitting him in the head, is an “interesting” way to protect oneself.
Ovechkin offered up another excuse, er explanation, to Lindsay Applebaum of the Washington Post.
“In the head?” No, I think it was the shoulder,” reasoned Ovechkin.
Washington Coach Dale Hunter called the hit “incidental contact”. Given his brutal attack on the Islanders Pierre Turgeon in 1993 (the one that got Hunter a 21-game suspension to start the next season), do we even need to be hearing from this jackwagon?
Also expect the media to ratchet up their attacks and sniping at Rangers Coach John Tortorella who set the land speed record for blowing off the media at the post-game press conference. It would not surprise me to see the NHL fine Torts and let Ovie skate.
Getting back to the game, both of the Rangers goals were scored from in front of the net with Artem Anisimov scoring one and assisting on the second. Anisimov picked Brooks Laich’s pocket while screening Braden Holtby and tied the game in the opening minutes of the second period.
Anisimov played a huge part in knotting the game as he raced in to win a loose puck behind the Capital net when icing was waved off. With the Washington defense easing off, Anisimov set up Marian Gaborik for a replay of his Game 3 winning goal.
I am not one to complain about penalties called or missed, but the third period was a microcosm of what is wrong with NHL officiating. If you look up the word inconsistency in the dictionary, you would see the picture of an NHL official.
While they whistled Carl Hagelin for the slashing and breaking a stick, the referees swallowed their whistles a couple of minutes earlier when Boyle’s stick was broken at the Capitals blue line.
The referees, and the linesmen for that matter, silenced their whistles after the Green goal when they missed Mike Knuble’s delay of the game when he batted the puck over the boards.
That might not have been such a big deal given the Rangers power play which has resorted back to its regular season ineptness. Gone is the quick passing puck movement and player movement. Back is the constant over-passing and indecision that stagnates the Blueshirts man advantage.
Even if they were moving the puck and looking to shoot, odds are the Capitals would have blocked the shot anyway. Washington dominated the shot blocking game 25-7.
If the Rangers are going to take anything out of their Game 4 loss is that they need to work harder at getting shots through to Holtby. If the Capitals are going to sell out to block shots, then the Rangers need to fake shots and look to move stickhandle into a better position.
One of the biggest culprits was Michael Del Zotto who had a couple of shots blocked in the closing minutes.
If you are fans of numbers, there are some interesting ones that came out of Game 4. First off, Holtby has not lost back-to-back games in his last 27 games. The Capitals have not lost two games in a row since March 22-23 when they lost a shootout to Philadelphia and an overtime game to Winnipeg.
The Capitals are now 3-0 in games following overtime losses in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Washington is 6-1 when they score first in the postseason.
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