Fri 10 May 2013
The Rangers better be prepared mentally and physically from the opening faceoff tonight at the Verizon Center because the Capitals are going to look to throw everything at the Blueshirts – including the proverbial kitchen sink – at the start of Game 5. Of course, that is easier said than done given the troubles the Rangers have had at the start of games during the abbreviated season.
It is imperative that the Rangers stay focused and concentrate on what they do best when they are playing at their best – be strong and aggressive on the forecheck, responsible in the defensive zone and stay out of the penalty box.
While the Rangers main concern is to stay the course from Games 3 and 4, the Capitals realize that they need to change their strategy to combat the Rangers.
“They kept their two guys coming strong and the third guy was just quick to follow,” Karl Alzner said to Katie Carrera of The Washington Post. “So it made it a little bit tougher for us to get the puck and bump it over like we like to. They were a lot better with their dumps as well. They made some adjustments, so we’ll have to adjust now.”
You can bet that Hart Trophy nominee Alex Ovechkin is going to look to lay waste to the Rangers after managing just three shots at Madison Square Garden – and that starts with some adjustments from his linemates Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus “JoJo” Johansson.
“I don’t think they changed how they play,” Ovechkin explained to Stephen Whyno of The Washington Times. “Of course they put [captain Ryan] Callahan against our line and we all know what he gonna do. He try and make physical contact on you. Girardi and McDonagh, they just stay back and try to block the shots. If we have our chance to shoot the puck, we have to shoot it. Don’t wait one second — or more — because if I’m gonna be in front of the net with JoJo we still have to shoot.”
Lest Ovechkin think that the Rangers are singling him out, Rangers Coach John Tortorella said the team is just doing what it does.
“We’re playing defense the way we always play defense,” Tortorella said to Jeff Z. Klein of the NY Times. “Any top line, that’s any team’s strategy, to try to keep them in their own end zone. No one’s reinventing the wheel here in this series.”
Tortorella had a much easier time dictating matchups at the Garden because he the last change as the home team – an advantage he won’t have in Game 5.
Even with the last change, Caps Coach Adam Oates knows that keeping his top line away from the Rangers top defensemen is not an easy thing because, as he explained to Whyno, “it’s still difficult because they play those two guys so much. They play 30 minutes.”
While much has been made about the matchups, it takes more than just one or two players to shut down Ovechkin, as demonstrated by their play in the games at the Garden.
“The last two games, we’ve had better structure with our forwards in the neutral zone,” McDonagh admitted to Klein. “If he gets through there, we’re able to have good gaps because of our structure. We talk about having to defend in units of five — up the ice in five, and backcheck in five.”
The Rangers will have one advantage in that Martin Erat will not be playing in Game 5 and his availability for the rest of the series is uncertain. Oates declined to comments on the results of Erat’s MRI – just going to show that Torts is not the only coach in this series who is keeping injury information to a bare minimum.
It is expected that former 2012 first round draft pick (#16) Tom Wilson will be inserted into the lineup on the fourth line with Jay Beagle and Matt Hendricks. While he is expected to get the ice time that Chris Kreider got last year, Wilson is looking to write his own Kreider-like story.
The 6-foot-4 and 210 pound RW went from the OHL Playoffs with the Plymouth Whalers to the AHL playoffs with the Hershey Bears and now to the NHL playoffs – all at the age of 19.
While the Capitals will be without Erat, the Rangers will be without Marc Staal who continues to struggle to get back into the lineup on a regular basis. After not speaking with the media prior to and after Game 4, the Rangers alternate captain spoke today.
“On the ice it didn’t go particularly well and then as the day went on I just couldn’t see myself getting into a game situation,” Staal told Andrew Gross. “It’s hard to explain, I don’t really want to try to, it’ll probably get misunderstood. If I’m ready to go, obviously I want to play I just couldn’t last game.”
Gross wrote that Staal did not go into details on the specifics, but Staal did say that his decision not to play in Game 4 (and presumably any games beyond tonight) had nothing to with what happened in Game 3.
It would be foolish for me or anyone else to speculate as to what the problem is. Suffice it to say that if Staal’s is not comfortable playing then he is making the right decision. The last thing he needs to do it put him into a situation where he is putting himself in danger.
While the NHL is making news on the ice with the Stanley Cup playoffs, the league is also making news off the ice as they continue to release the names of its award nominees. You can expect the crowd at the Verizon Center will be vocal in recognizing Ovechkin as one of the three finalists for the Hart Trophy, along with Sidney Crosby and John Tavares. You can also expect a lot of noise coming out of the Western Conference since all three finalists are Eastern Conference players.
The other big news has the NHL releasing/leaking that the league will be shutting for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics break from February 9-25, 2014.
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