Capitals Must Improve Play At Home
By Stephen London
The Washington Capitals lost a heart-wrencher of a game in triple overtime May 2 and now trail, 2-1, in the Eastern Conference semifinal series against the top-seeded New York Rangers. Game 3 was the Capitals' fourth loss out of five total playoff games at the Verizon Center this season.
The Capitals seem to be a tougher team to beat on the road. Granted, all the Capitals' home playoff games have been decided by one goal, but it is odd that four out of the five times, the Capitals couldn't get the game-tying -- or in some cases game-winning -- goal. The Capitals are 0-4 all time in playoff games going into the third overtime or longer.
The Rangers' first line has been getting most of the points in clutch situations. Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik have accounted for eight points in three games. Richards has been the key to the series with two goals and two assists, with one of the assists coming in the triple-overtime game. Richards also increased the Rangers lead in Game 1 with an insurance goal, making the final 3-1.
If the Capitals do not get a forward line that can play defense well to match up against the Rangers' first line, expect New York to continue winning. Defensive-minded forward Karl Alzner and John Carlson be going up against the Rangers' top line. Mike Green and Roman Hamrlik have good on-ice presence, but after taking a few hits and a couple long shifts, both have problems skating hard.
Green always seems to look like he is skating effortlessly, even though it costs him time to get to the puck in the corner. Hamrlik, although a veteran defenseman with plenty of playoff experience, shows his age (38) after long shifts by committing turnovers in the defensive zone.
It is understandable to see sluggish defensive execution in overtime, but the Capitals have been showing it during the second and third periods in previous games. It also does not help the defensemen look any less sluggish when the Capitals take 12 penalties during three games.
The Capitals' penalty kill has not been top-notch, as it was against the Bruins when they allowed two goals out of 12 opportunities. But Washington cannot let the Rangers' power play, anchored by great puck-moving defensemen, on the ice as much as the Bruins' power play was.
The Capitals' power play also has been a bit stagnant; they have scored only one goal out of 11 opportunities. The power-play unit is taking too long to decide whether to shoot or pass. Because the Capitals hesitate, the Rangers' penalty-kill unit is able to get back and read and react better.
In terms of scoring, the Capitals need to shoot high on Henrik Lundqvist, a finalist for the Hart Trophy (Most Valuable Player), who is a butterfly-style goaltender and tends to drop down on incoming shots. The main reason Carlson was able to get the tying goal in Game 3 was that he shot right above Lundqvist's shoulder.
The key to a Capitals victory is to make the following adjustments: First, the defensive matchups need to be more in the Washington's favor, when the Rangers have their first line out the entire game.
Second, the Capitals have to limit unnecessary penalties such as hooking and tripping. The Rangers' power play has been too good to continue giving them these opportunities, especially at the Verizon Center.
Third, the power play needs to keep the puck moving and not hesitate. When the power-play unit hesitates, the Rangers are able to capitalize on the puck's positioning. Also, it gives Lundqvist time to check his surrounding area to see where the next pass is going.
Even if the Capitals execute the keys, they will still need another great performance by rookie goaltender Braden Holtby. He is one of the main reasons the Capitals have gotten as far as they have. As long as Holtby does not have a repeat of Game 1 (78.6 save percentage) and the Capitals execute the keys to the game, the Caps should even up the series at two apiece.
Capitals Players To Watch: Alex Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom, Jason Chimera, Troy Brouwer
Possible Unsung Hero: Matt Hendricks
Rangers Players To Watch: Richards, Gaborik, Artem Anisimov, Ryan Callahan
Posted May 4, 2012