The Rangers’ O
Lost in the noise of the Caps’ past playoff struggles and Lundqvist’s magnificent effort in Game 1 was the fact that Washington played an outstanding defensive hockey game. Rookie goalie Michal Neuvirth was quiet with his movements and for the most part didn’t give up a lot of bad rebounds. And in front of him, the Caps blocked a ton of shots, 32 for the game, including a game-high eight by Karl Alzner.
The one thing the Rangers will need to work on for Game 2 is finding the back of the net. (How's that for insight?) It seems obvious, but, despite the close score, the Caps dominated long stretches of the game, largely because the Rangers could mount little in the offensive end. The power play only posted one shot in its two appearances though it created some good chances on the second penalty, they just couldn’t convert. Just as Alex Semin erased some playoff demons with his OT goal, Marian Gaborik had a couple opportunities to wipe away disappointing memories of diminished scoring with a playoff marker, he just couldn’t connect on a few solid chances.
Alex Ovechkin scored the Caps’ first goal and made his presence known with his physical play, but for the most part the Rangers did a nice job keeping one of the league’s top scoring threats in check. One thing Bruce Boudreau couldn’t do Wednesday night is get Ovechkin away from Marc Staal and Dan Girardi. If you take a look at this time on ice chart, you’ll notice that the only time Ovechkin really had any time away from the shutdown pair -- aside from the two power plays -- was by staying on the ice longer and extending his shifts. According to the data, oftentimes Staal and Girardi were already on the ice when Ovechkin went over the boards. It will be interesting to see if the Caps try to change up that plan tonight. Also, the Wolski-Boyle-Prust line saw a lot of time against the Caps’ pairing of Mike Green and John Erskine. That was arguably the Rangers’ best line Wednesday, accounting for their one and only goal. I’d expect the Rangers to try and encourage that matchup again, as the forechecking of that trio can, and has, given the Caps problems.
It’s strange to think that a pair of miscues by the Rangers’ top D pairing led to both Washington goals Wednesday. On the rush leading to the tying goal, Staal and Girardi collided in the neutral zone, allowing the two Alexes to set up an initial shot as well as the rebound opportunity that was ultimately pushed across the goal line. In OT, it was a Staal clearing attempt that was snagged by Jason Arnott and led to the game-winner. In the locker room afterward, Staal said he should have played the puck behind the net since Arnott was clearly blocking the boards. Was it a bad play? Probably. But it’s one he and the rest of the Rangers will have to forget about as they move on. If the Blueshirts can bounce back, as they often have after disappointing losses, and even the series, it will be a huge road win as the scene shifts back to New York on Sunday.