A glimpse at how the Caps might line-match against the Rangers

The single most important line this series (AP Photo/Gary Wiepert).

The single most important line this series (AP Photo/Gary Wiepert).

As Game 1 nears, we have covered almost every aspect of how the Caps and the Rangers will match up against each other. The one thing that hasn’t been covered is the particular line matchups that Adam Oates will deploy against the Rangers, particularly in Games 1 and 2 where he has the last change. As Suit pointed out last season, getting the right¬†line matchups can be critical to a team’s success, and there are certain pairings we should expect the Rangers top guys to see as they play the games.

Per Left Wing Lock (courtesy of JP of Japers Rink), the Caps lines have been rather static in their formation of late: Alex Ovehckin-Nicklas Backstrom-Marcus Johansson, Troy Brouwer-Mike Ribiero-Martin Erat, Jason Chimera-Mathieu Perreault-Eric Fehr, Aaron Volpatti-Matt Hendricks-Jay Beagle. Since Joel Ward is likely to be back in the lineup, expect him to slot in for Fehr on the third line, with Volpatti coming out of the lineup and Fehr moving to the fourth line. On defense, you have Karl Alzner-Mike Green, John Erksine-John Carlson, and Jack Hillen-Steve Oleksy.

It is safe to assume that one of Rick Nash or Derek Stepan will draw the Erksine/Carlson combination, and the smart money is on Nash here. Erksine and Carlson have been the Caps top shutdown pairing all year, and it makes sense that they would draw the Nash assignment. This especially holds true when Nash is on a line with Brad Richards.

Where things get interesting is which pairing gets the Stepan line. This line is incredibly fast, so you have to wonder if the not-so-defensively-sound Green, who is on the second pairing with Alzner, gets that assignment. If the Erksine/Carlson duo is effectively negating Nash/Richards, then this is a very favorable matchup for the Rangers. Alzner is pretty solid, but Green has the potential to be an unmitigated disaster of a matchup against Stepan/Hagelin/Cally.

Another possible scenario, again assuming that Erksine/Carlson get Nash/Richards duty, is that Oates doesn’t matchup against Stepan, meaning the Hillen/Oleksy combo gets some time with them. In that case, the rookie Oleksy has the potential to be exploited, although Hillen has been pretty good all year for the Caps (when he was healthy).

Both possible scenarios open up another possible mismatch with the Rangers’ third line. Derick Brassard seems to have regained some confidence, and Taylor Pyatt has been hot lately. Chris Kreider is the real wild card here, as he has the speed and skill to really exploit defensive mismatches, especially against defensemen who aren’t swift skaters. The common theme here is that the Rangers forwards matchup fairly well against the Caps defensemen.

Moving on to the forwards, Oates is going to do everything he can to keep Ovechkin away from Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi, which means attempting to exploit Michael Del Zotto/Anton Stralman and John Moore/Steve Eminger. Torts can severely limit Ovechkin’s effectiveness by just deploying McDonagh and Girardi on every defensive zone draw. If Oates is adamant about keeping Ovechkin away from them, then he will limit how many offensive zone starts he gets.

The problem then lies with the Caps second line of Erat-Ribiero-Brouwer, which is a very good second line. If McDonagh and Girardi are to get the lion’s share of Ovechkin duty, then it’s safe to assume that MDZ/Stralman get this line. They are prone to gaffes, but this isn’t exactly a terrible matchup for the Rangers, especially if they can manage to get the Stepan line, of which all three are great defensively, out against them.

The third and fourth lines for the Caps have some offensive potential, and not nearly on the same level as their top two lines. Ward’s return can create some havoc, but the pairing of Moore/Eminger should be able to slow that line down a bit. Forward match ups (note: Brassard/Pyatt) will be key to shutting down the depth forwards for the Caps.

At even strength, the Rangers matchup very well against the Caps. The newly added depth –even though it is relatively depleted with the Brian Boyle and Ryane Clowe injuries– opens up space for the Nash line and the Stepan line. The Caps don’t appear to have the defensive depth to match the Rangers, although execution will play a role. Of course, the key words here are¬†at even strength. If the Rangers take too many penalties, then this will be a quick series.

16 Responses to “A glimpse at how the Caps might line-match against the Rangers”

  1. VinceR says:

    I believe there is also talk about splitting up McD and Girardi so we have a top shutdown d man on 2 D pairings.

    Things will be more interesting once Staal gets back.

  2. Walt says:

    Plenty to think about with the way it was broken down. The key is, was, and will be the health of Marc Staal! If he returns, and I believe he will, Torts has much more flexability to work with, and can incorporate both McD, and Staal on Ovie. That will give us three shut down d-men to work against their top two lines. My gut tells me that this is a six game series, with us on top, but each game will be tight.

    On another note, last night the Isles got beat big time, but if you noticed, Bylsma never tried to slow that team down even with a five goal lead. That is a no class piece of crap behind the bench. If you recall the 6-1 game, Torts put the 4th line on the PP, not to run up the score, there my friends is the difference between class, and SH*T!

    • Justin says:

      ‘Cmon Walt, it’s the playoffs. The last thing you want to give an 8 seed is hope or anything to build on. You stomp them out as quickly and ruthlessly as possible. Just look what the Rangers did to the Islanders in ’94. That’s how you handle an 8 seed. I think Bylsma is one of the classiest, most intelligent coaches in the game today.

    • The Suit says:

      Walt sticking up for Tortorella? Bahhhh?

      • Walt says:

        Suit

        Never happen!!!!!

        Justin

        As to Bylsma, and that organization, they always try running up the score. No matter what you say, he is a sh*t head!!!!!

        • Chris F says:

          The entire Pittsburgh organization is classless.

          They disrespect their opponents at every turn and are drenched in an arrogant sense of entitlement.

          They complain about head shots while Cooke was skating around trying to decapitate players. They laugh on the bench when Johnson broke DPs orbital bone. Then, they dress Johnson again the next game against the Isles and Bylsma is somehow never slapped with the mandatory fine when Goddard left the bench to jump Haley.

          Running up the score is just one more example in a history replete with classless moves.

          I loathe that organization to its very core.

  3. Sally says:

    Pens looked pretty amazing last night. I think you have to rattle Fleury early in order to have a chance.

  4. Bloomer says:

    The Rangers have to crunch the Caps every chance they get, particularly Mike Green. Washington is prone to turning the puck over when under pressure. Holtbey is known for giving up juicy rebounds which the Rangers need to pounce on especially when they have a powerplay. The Caps PP is very formidable, the Blues shirts can counter by having very active sticks and being aggressive and not allowing Washington to set up.
    I would be shocked if this series doesn’t go 7 games. It will be a hard fought series as both teams are closely matched. I give the edge to the Rangers as Hank will be the difference.

  5. mikeyyy says:

    Its the playoffs, no bad mouthing of the coach during this time….let’s not analyze but let’s let the performance speak for itself.

  6. Seahorse says:

    is that a photoshopped picture of mike milbury in a callahan jersey?

  7. Tim B says:

    I dont like these new lines. I would just leave them the way they were and keep that chemistry together. Pyatt needs to be with Richards if we want another scoring threat. How many minutes do you guys think John Moore/Eminger will play?