Thu 10 May 2012
Somewhere in the Garden State, the New Jersey Devils are smiling today about the prospects of the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals having to play another 60 minutes (or beyond) in a seventh and deciding game. While the Capitals have no other choice, the Rangers let a golden opportunity slip through their fingers.
With a chance to finally make things easier on themselves in the playoffs, the Rangers played with a troublesome lack of urgency. While it is natural for Washington to be the more desperate team, for the first time in the playoffs I never really got the feeling the Rangers were ever really going to get into the game.
The Blueshirts did themselves no favors by taking a penalty just 73 seconds into the game. Anton Stralman’s tripping penalty was an omen for things to come as the Capitals looked to be a step or two faster and quicker than the Rangers. When Alexander Ovechkin found the seam in the Rangers penalty kill and converted on a one-timer 15 seconds later, the Blueshirts were back on their heels and never seemed to recover.
The Stralman penalty also shows how fine the line is between winning and losing. If Stralman is able to get a piece of the puck before taking down Jason Chimera, there might have been no penalty.
“I thought we regrouped in the first period – it took us a few minutes,” Rangers Coach John Tortorella explained after game. “It’s not the way we wanted to start.”
With all apologies to the coach, I don’t think the Rangers really did a good job regrouping. It wasn’t a matter of the Ovechkin goal taking the wind out of the Ranger sails; the team never seemed to unfurl their sails at all.
“We talked about coming out and starting well and then they get a goal right away on the power play and it kind of set the tone for the game, and from there it was just tough for us to get going,” Henrik Lundqvist lamented while speaking to Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post. “I think we all feel like we can do better and we have to do better.”
By the way, quick note to Pierre McGuire and the NBC announcers, you can pretty much beat any butterfly goaltender high to the glove side – especially one like Lundqvist who plays deep in the crease. Lundqvist has been in the league for seven years and everyone knows it so Olaf Kolzig and the Washington Capitals certainly did not break new ground.
Getting back to Game 6, that penalty and goal appeared to knock the Rangers off their game. As I mentioned, the Capitals were quicker on their breakouts and the Ranger forwards were slower than usual on their backcheck. As a result, the Rangers never ramped up their forecheck during the game.
NBC’s announcers made a point to gush over how Mike Green appeared to be fully recovered because he was playing so well. Green was playing so well because the Rangers were not getting in on the forecheck and hitting him and the other Capitals d-men.
As badly as the Rangers were playing, they had their chances to get back into the game – but their power play took yet another night off.
In Game 5, the Rangers power play was a game changer. In Game 6, the Rangers power play was a game killer – despite Dan Girardi’s assessment.
“I think at times our power play was actually pretty good,” Girardi explained to El-Bashir. “We had some good entries. We moved the puck around well. Obviously, we didn’t get one on the power play and they got one on theirs. It could have gone either way.”
No offense to Girardi, but what game was he watching? Despite Girardi being the only Ranger blueliner who seemed intent on adding to the offense, he couldn’t have been more wrong about the Rangers power play – and it was never more apparent than during the four-minute power play about midway through the second period.
Down two goals, the Blueshirts had the perfect opportunity to make up for their lackluster play with Jeff Halpern in the penalty box. You know that everyone in the Verizon Center was flashing back to Joel Ward’s double-minor that turned Game 5 around.
“Obviously, with what happened in Game 5 your first thought is negative,” Halpern admitted to Stephen Whyno of the Washington Times. “With a two-goal lead it could have been two bang-bang power play goals.”
Tortorella summed up the play of his power play unit, both during the four-minute power play and the other man advantages.
“It sucked,” was Torts retort.
Much has been made about Tortorella’s curt manner with the press during his post-game press conferences. Well, when you have guys ask why you only had one assistant on the bench – as someone did a couple of weeks ago – you can see why the coach gets a bit testy.
Last night, it happened again. One of the reporters basically asked him why he called the timeout prior to the Capitals getting their second goal. That would be the timeout the Rangers called because of icing after a long shirt. According to Rick Carpiniello of the Journal News, the question was not asked by some neophyte reporter. Instead, it was asked by a veteran Canadian hockey writer.
The urgency they showed on the power play at the end of Game 5 was nowhere to be found in Game 6. The one thing the NBC announcers did get correct was the Rangers inability/unwillingness to go to the front of the net and create traffic and deflections in front of Braden Holtby – both on the power play at even strength.
Holtby has proven that he is not a flash in the pan and long-range slapshots with no one in front of him (not at the side of the crease) is not going to beat him. You have to wonder if Holtby has gotten into the Rangers minds to the point where they feel they need a perfect shot to beat him.
The simple fact is they need to examine the last three goals they have scored to find a solution to their Holtby problem.
Setting aside the point of the game and the urgency exhibited, the Blueshirts last three goals can as a result of the Rangers getting bodies in front of Holtby so he can’t control rebounds (Richards’ goal) and they got bodies in front to set screens (Staal’s goal) and they got bodies in front for deflections (Gaborik’s goal).
You know things are going badly for the Rangers when their fourth line is their most consistent line. Heck, Ovechkin was more of a goal scoring threat when he got a shot off while sliding on his ass in the third period than the Rangers were for the entire game.
In the end, you have to give the Capitals credit. They were in a must-win game and played that way. The biggest key for them was their ability to extend their one-goal lead – something they did not do in Game 5.
Between now and Saturday night, the Rangers must figure out why they did not raise their intensity-level and why they were not able to match Washington’s urgency once they fell behind. If they are unable to do those two things in Game 7, the Rangers are doomed to repeat their 2009 playoff fate when they let a 3-1 series lead slip through their fingers.
Here is one point to ponder, one that you did not here NBC trumpeting last night. While much was made about the Capitals becoming the first NHL team to go 4-0 in games following playoff losses, no one mentions what the Capitals record is in the games following those wins. That is because Washington is 0-3 with Game 7 pending.
The other stat that is tossed around is how Holtby is 6-0 following Capitals’ losses. That is true, but it also means that he is 1-6 in the other games – including 1-4 following up those six wins.
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