Capitals Face Elimination Tonight At Verizon Center
By Stephen London
During the last 24 hours, the media have been talking about the Washington Capitals and how they had Game 5 in their hands before giving up a goal during the final seconds of regulation and losing in overtime.
The question then becomes whether the Capitals can come back from losing Game 5 and win the next two games against the New York Rangers to advance to the Eastern Conference finals. Even though Game 5 was a heartbreaker, the Capitals have a head coach that will make sure the team is focused on the task at hand -- in this case, winning Game 6.
Some sports analysts argue the Capitals will lose because the Rangers stole Game 5 with 6.6 seconds left. But the Capitals’ having a lead at all was a positive outcome considering the Rangers took more than double the number of shots (38-18).
The Capitals' neutral-zone defense was playing pretty well, getting a lot of odd-man rushes that came up empty, but they were having trouble getting the puck out of their defensive zone. It also did not help matters that the Capitals committed four penalties, including one toward the end of the game that led to the Rangers' game-tying and game-winning goals.
The Rangers seem to have the upper hand when it comes to the man advantage. During this series, their power play has scored four times out of 18 opportunities with the man advantage (22 percent).
Tonight's Game 6 is at the Verizon Center, which may give the Capitals the upper hand in shot totals. The Rangers will have to create turnovers and play strong defense in an effort to make it a low-scoring game.
The Capitals should try a new tactic that has not been incorporated in this series -- get the Rangers frustrated by hitting, stick-lifting and provoking them into committing retaliation penalties. The Capitals usually employ this tactic against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and it works like a charm.
If the Capitals do decide to use the frustration tactic, their power play has to have a good night. The Caps have converted three goals out of 16 man-advantage opportunities this series (18.75 percent). The key to making a power play more efficient is not hesitating when a player has the puck. If the shot is open, take it; if the shot is not open, pass the puck immediately. If there is hesitation in deciding, the power play is likely to fail.
Henrik Lundqvist, although nominated for the Hart Trophy, has not been playing as well as expected. His Game 5 save percentage was 88.9, and it was 88.5 percent during Game 4. The drop could be from the lack of shots faced, but it also could be because of the Capitals realizing they must shoot high in order to beat a butterfly goaltender like Lundqvist.
The keys to a Capitals Game 6 victory are to take advantage of being on their home ice. The home team usually dictates the momentum at the game’s outset, and the Capitals should come out of the gates flying, looking to outshoot the Rangers during the first period at least.
The Capitals should try to get into Rangers’ heads to force penalties. Only one of the Capitals' playoff games was decided by more than one goal, and getting power-play opportunities might give the Capitals the advantage they need.
Another adjustment the Capitals need to make is to communicate better on the penalty kill. Too many times more than one Capital has dived in front of a shot. If a Rangers player fakes a shot and passes it down low, two of the four Capitals are then out of position.
The final, but possibly the most important key to the game, is better-timed line changes. Too many times the Capitals get stuck in their defensive zone and cannot get the puck cleared because the players are gassed. The Rangers can then use the Capitals' tiredness to their advantage.
The Capitals have been missing Alex Semin, who scored three goals against the Boston Bruins during the previous series but has been held to just one assist against the Rangers. Semin had a couple of odd-man rushes, but he failed to either get a shot or pass the puck.
Capitals Players To Watch: Alex Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom, Jason Chimera, Alex Semin
Possible Unsung Hero: Troy Brouwer
Rangers Players To Watch: Brad Richards, Ryan Callahan, Artem Anisimov, Marian Gaborik
Posted May 8, 2012