Last season the Rangers faced the Washington Capitals in the first round of the playoffs. And we made a bet with Capitals Outsider, the Washington Capitals blog on Fansided. That didn’t turn out so well for us.
But it’s a new year, and the Rangers built off of the momentum they started last season to vault all the way up to the top of the Eastern Conference despite having one of the youngest teams in the NHL. Meanwhile, the Capitals got knocked out the very next round, had such a terrible start to their season that they got their coach fired, got a career low 65 points from Alexander Ovechkin, and barely made the playoffs despite playing in the worst division in the entire league. So who’s laughing now?
Nonetheless, Capitals Outsider is asoverconfident as ever and again challenged us to the same bet as last year; the winning team gets to put a post on the opposing team’s site. I like our chances a lot more this time around. Let’s look at some thoughts going into Game One of the second round series against the Capitals.
Braden Holtby- After scoring only one goal on thirty six shots against Holtby in the final game of the season their was much misinformed criticism about the Rangers’ inability to get the puck past a “lowly third-string goaltender.” Granted, Holtby is not the next Patrick Roy, but Holtby’s talent far exceeds that of a typical third-string goaltender and hopefully that was exposed in the Capitals’ first round series against the Bruins.
As John Tortorella might say, though, he had a good series against Boston and has some talent, but let’s not crap our pants on him. For every flashy glove save Holtby made there was the occasional bobbled puck or bad rebound. No doubt that if Henrik Lundqvist and Braden Holtby partook in a staring contest Holtby would be the one to blink first.
Callahan, Dubinsky, and Prust- Justin Goldman at The Goalie Guild questions how well Holtby will hold up with traffic in front of him and pressure coming from the sides of the crease. For Callahan, Dubinsky, and Prust, this is their chance to shine. Very few players in the NHL do the role of poacher in front of the net and from the sides than Ryan Callahan does. He’s a master at screening the goaltender, getting deflections, and putting loose pucks in the slot into the net. Prust and Dubinsky also do a good job of planting their feet in front of the goaltending and making life difficult for them. The Bruins tried to play a perimeter game against Holtby and it failed miserably. The Rangers need to get bodies in front of Holtby and make life difficult for him.
The Ovechkin Line- I have absolutely no idea what Tortorella’s plan is over the course of the series for which defensemen will be matched up against the Ovechkin line, and you’re lying if you think you do. I think Girardi and McDonagh are the likely top pairing for today and will be matched up against Ovechkin. Marc Staal has usually been the one to match up against Ovechkin in the past so this will be a test for our top pairing. Dan Girardi does not have the speed and stick ability that Staal does but I do trust Girardi to get in front of Ovechkin’s shots and cut off his passing lanes. The key for me is Ryan McDonagh. Like Staal he is great with his stick and at pushing players off the puck but he is also a better skater than Staal, which might make him an even better match for Ovechkin. Ryan McDonagh needs to make sure that Ovechkin isn’t able to cut behind him, because that will end terribly for the Rangers. The Capitals struggled to get offense outside of their top line against the Bruins so, like against the Senators, that matchup is crucial to moving on to the next round.
Marian Gaborik- He was better than last year’s debacle against the Capitals but it still wasn’t a great series from Gaborik against the Senators. To be fair, Craig Anderson was incredibly good and the Senators did a great job of shutting down our entire top line throughout the series. The Capitals don’t have a shut-down defensive pair and they will be playing a more open game so Gaborik should get more chances. As great as Gaborik’s regular season was, this is the time when the Rangers need him most. Thirteen shots in seven games is not enough from out top scorer. He needs to be testing Holtby and getting the puck on net.
Brandon Dubinsky Again- Net presence would be nice but just do SOMETHING at a higher gear this series. Dubinsky was not a liability by any means against Ottawa and did a good job defensively and on the PK. But he knows, John Tortorella knows, and everyone in the arena knows that Dubinsky is capable of being more than a supplemental player. You have seven points in twelve career playoff games against the Capitals. You were the team’s best forward for stretches of last year’s series against them. You may very well be fighting for your future as a New York Ranger right now. I’m not questioning your effort, but start converting that effort into more positive things. It would be one thing if you were simply not capable of it, but history contradicts that notion. Time to step it up.