Capitals And Rangers Move To Washington For Game 3
By Stephen London
The Washington Capitals split the first two games against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, and the series relocates to the Verizon Center tonight. The first game was a bit of a debacle for the Capitals, but they came prepared in Game 2 and were able to take advantage of a power play late in the game.
Alex Ovechkin played only three minutes in the first period of Game 2 and totaled 13:36 of ice time, which is probably less than Rangers head coach John Tortorella was expecting from the Caps’ captain. The Capitals' opponents prepare their defensive schemes and lines based on when Ovechkin is on the ice; during the first playoff series, the Boston Bruins sent Zdeno Chara to cover Ovechkin almost every time.
When the Rangers defense is rotating two defensive lines rather than the normal three, the two lines rotating get tired quickly. That could have contributed to the Capitals scoring two quick goals during the first period of Game 2.
Joel Ward got the ball rolling for the Capitals in Game 2, intercepting a pass in the defensive zone and assisting Mike Knuble's goal. Jason Chimera then used his speed to beat All-Star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist to a puck behind the net and give the Capitals a 2-0 first-period lead.
Ward’s and Chimera’s opportunistic goals made the Caps look like a veteran team, but the team as a whole will have to come more prepared in Game 3. Washington gave the Rangers four power-play opportunities in Game 2 alone, and the Capitals suffered on the penalty kill. Although the Rangers scored only one power-play goals, there were other shots that hit off the posts and crossbar.
The Capitals got the best of the Rangers the last two times they met in the playoffs, but that was before Brad Richards came to New York. Since Richards rejoined Tortorella -- they won a Stanley Cup together with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004 -- the Rangers have had their most successful season since 1993-94. Richards is a playmaker who knows what it takes to win Lord Stanley's Cup.
To win the series, the Capitals will have to neutralize Richards, who already has two goals and an assist in the first two games of the series. The Capitals could either go after Richards, as the Rangers have gone after Mike Green, or have a defensive forward, such as Jay Beagle, shadow Richards the entire series, giving him little space to make plays.
Rangers rookie Chris Kreider is speedy and just won a national championship at Boston College, which makes him a wild card. The rest of the league has neither seen much tape nor played much against Kreider to know his tendencies. He already has a goal and an assist in this series. It will be interesting to see whether the Tortorella puts Kreider on the power play if the man advantage does not convert enough goals the next couple games in the series.
Another key for the Capitals is not to let the Rangers' physical hitting affect them. In Game 2, the Rangers were going after Green, which caused him to turn over the puck in the defensive zone, make ill-advised passes and retaliate with a tripping penalty late in the first period. The other Washington player the Rangers were going after in the second period of Game 2 was Roman Hamrlik. The Capitals will have to get the puck out of the zone when Hamrlik is out on the ice.
Caps coach Dale Hunter will likely play Jeff Schultz instead of John Erskine, because that was his strategy in Game 2. Schultz is a big, rough defenseman, but the 6-foot-6 Calgary native does not use his body as much as he could.
The final key for the Capitals is to defend their home ice. Last series against the Bruins, the Capitals won only one game at home. The fans must keep the players at full tilt so the Capitals can get more than one home victory this series.
Capitals Players To Watch: Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom, Chimera, Green
Possible Unsung Hero: Brooks Laich
Rangers Players To Watch: Richards, Marian Gaborik, Artem Anisimov, Ryan Callahan
The Capitals recalled goaltender Dany Sabourin, defenseman Sean Collins and forward Cody Eakin from their AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears. These call-ups are probably just for practice purposes, but Hunter is known for his matchup tricks.
Posted May 2, 2012