A quantum of solace

Greg Flume/Getty Images

Greg Flume/Getty Images

After four days of anticipation, hand-wringing and analysis, the Rangers and Caps finally kicked off their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series last night.  And it was ugly.  There’s no two ways around it, the boys were sloppy, undisciplined and flat out not ready to play this game.  They were dominated for the first ten minutes of the game, and fell victim to taking far too many penalties.  However, there were quite a few positives to take away from this game as evidence that this team can still win this series.  Let’s talk it out…

The game was lost in a span of :46 seconds

Sure, Ovechkin tied the game on the powerplay.  It was a penalty that shouldn’t even have been called.  That’s hockey.  The tide of this game was turned however, on two mistakes.  The first, was a mental mistake between the pairing of Girardi and McDonagh in letting Marcus Johansson slip in behind them for a breakaway.  The second was made by Henrik Lundqvist on Jason Chimera’s back-breaking third goal.

Forty-six seconds apart.  There’s the whole game.  The Blueshirts weathered the storm of the Capitals’ attack in the first period, scored a goal they didn’t really deserve, and found their legs in the later stages of the game.  If not for these two mental breakdowns, we could have been heading to OT with some momentum in the Rangers’ favor.  I know it’s unfair, and we are spoiled by Hank’s general excellence, but I’d like to see him stop that move from Johansson.  He was off-balance and let the puck squeak through him.  When the King is on his game, that puck is not in the net.

Hank’s off-game

Speaking of which, when was the last time Hank underperformed when it mattered most?  2010?  Hank has always been rock solid if not “pick the team up by the bootstraps” good in his Rangers’ playoff tenure.  While he did not play poorly last night (he was tremendous in the first period), he was not the goaltender he has to be for 60 minutes for the Rangers to win playoff games.

For all of you regular readers out there, you know I’m not particularly critical of Hank most of the time.  He has earned a hugely long leash for one-off mistakes due to his past play and overall 150% effort that he gives to this team.  With that said, for the rest of this series, he has to be better.  He needs to make Washington scratch and claw for every goal they score.  If he can do that, the Rangers can win this series.

Gettin’ Holtby’d

As an objective analyst, I love Braden Holtby.  As a Ranger fan who needs him to cede goals to my beloved team, I know he’s going to drive me nuts.  He played very, very well last night, was the beneficiary of some puck luck and got a handy assist from his goal frame.  All that said, the Rangers had plenty of chances to pot at least 3-4 goals in that game.

While the Caps did a Ranger-esque job of shot blocking/low zone collapse, keeping the more dangerous Ranger players to the outside, the chances were there.  On the John Moore non-goal, I can tell you from experience, that if you are that off-balance on the short side as a goaltender, 99.9% of the time, that puck either beats you clean or rolls off your back and into the net.

The Caps didn’t really contain the top two scoring lines

Yes, the Caps outplayed the Rangers for the most part, and had a quality penalty-kill.  However, the defensive core of Alzner, Carlson, Erskine and Oleksy did not inspire much confidence in being able to shut down the Nash or Stepan lines with regularity in this series.  The shot blocking took a lot of the sting out of the chances these lines created, but the Caps were often finding themselves clearing scrums out of the front of the net, or laying out for blocks from dangerous areas of the ice.

The third period

This could have been a product of the Caps sitting back to defend the lead, but with the exception of some counter punching and a shift or two pinning the Rangers in their zone, the entire third period looked like the Rangers imposing their will on the Caps.  The Caps would clear the puck, the Rangers would retrieve it, and head back to the offensive zone to try and cut the lead.

Hopefully this momentum, and a quick turnaround time (a little over 36 hours from final buzzer to opening face-off) could aid the Rangers in grabbing a foothold early in this series and stealing home ice advantage back.

Misc.

I couldn’t find the stats broken down to this extent in time for publishing this post, but from the eye test, it seemed the Rangers lost a ton of offensive zone face-offs, especially on the powerplay.  Washington only won two more face-offs overall during the game, but it seemed every time we were set up in the offensive zone, we had to play fetch, which shaved :20 off the clock each time before setting up again.

Rick Nash had 8 shots on goal.  When Nash, and the Rangers as a whole aren’t playing all that well, imagine what kind of damage he can do when the team is really going?  When the team was “contained” to the tune of only 1 goal (even though they could have had 3-4, easy), I’m really looking forward to the inevitable Nash breakout in this series.

Which brings me to my final point:  While the Rangers did look pretty (bad, unprepared, sloppy, I’ll let you pick your own adjective) last night, they could have easily found themselves tied or ahead in that game.  I did not see a Caps team that is out of the Rangers’ league or a team that they cannot battle long into a series.  There were swings, of course, because Washington is a talented side.  Overall though, if the Rangers can find the discipline and structure that gave them success after the deadline, they can easily turn this series around.  That, and staying out of the damn penalty box.

21 Responses to “A quantum of solace”

  1. Mikeyyy says:

    Spot on.

    I predict a bounce back game.

    Oates is a good coach it won’t be easy.

  2. Alex says:

    Could not agree more with this analysis. Outside of the slow start, two mental lapses, and too many penalties, I thought a majority of the game the Rangers looked like the dominate team.

    Looking forward to game two!

    • Justin says:

      Much appreciated Alex. I think the Rangers will find their footing tomorrow and we will have a series on our hands.

  3. Bill says:

    The King has spoiled us! He is human, I like our chances in this series I think we see Nash go to the next level and take us for a nice ride!

    • Justin says:

      Indeed he has, Bill, indeed he has. Nash’s game looks like he’s ready to have a big impact on the remainder of this series.

  4. Chris F says:

    With the exception of that 12-1 shot differential in the opening half of the first period, the Caps were not all that dominant. In fact, the Rangers, I think, were the overall better team for most of the game.

    There were some mistakes, namely the miscue by Girardi/McDonagh that led to the breakaway goal, and Lundqvist’s lack of focus on the Chimera goal, but I sincerely think this loss was the result of bad breaks, and not a dominant Caps team.

    I don’t generally like to make excuses for a loss; yet as a fan, that was one infuriating game to watch in terms of bad breaks. The Asham call was not charging, and Ovi scores on the ensuing PP. The Chimera goal came right after a missed call on a blatant tripping take-down of Stralman. That’s 2 goals the Capitals were gifted. Then the Moore goal is waved off. I know the rules regarding the necessity of video corroboration, but that was absolutely a goal. The puck was behind the post, in the side pocket of the net. Holtby reached his entire glove behind the line to get that puck and pull it out. There’s a goal taken away from the Rangers. Then, on the piss-poor 5-on-3 PP the Rangers had, they couldn’t capitalize. That’s on them entirely. But, one has to wonder what could have happened on that 2-man advantage had Callahan been on the ice, instead of in the box after he was cross-checked, twice, in the crease. What was that call all about?

    Moving on to the next game, I think Hank is gonna be motivated to really dominate, and I think the Rangers can be encouraged by the number of shots and chances they got last night. They should come out hard, and I think Nash breaks through in a big way.

    Finally, Rangers PK was good last night, that’s a great sign. And they got alot of man-down scoring chances. Hagelin could have had a hat-trick last night, with that PK breakaway and then ringing the post on the 2-on-1 with Stepan.

    This series is gonna turn. Rangers will get it done tomorrow.

    • Justin says:

      Love the optimism, Chris. I think the biggest impact could be the return of Clowe, if he can make it back. His physicality could be a huge boon for this team.

      • Chris F says:

        Clowe hasn’t skated yet, though, right? If not, I don’t expect him back this series, unless it goes 6 or 7 maybe.

        Boyle and Staal, though, I hope to see any day. And maybe Dorsett.

        • Justin says:

          You’re correct on Clowe, but he has participated in off-ice workouts. I don’t think he will make it back either, but any of the injury returns will help restore some depth that will only be helpful.

    • Galen H says:

      I agree, those were two really tough breaks…
      My problem with them last night was they constantly seemed to want to be too cute, (impossible passes through traffic) or hold the puck too long (allowing the Caps to clog the middle or tie up sticks). They hadn’t made the transition to “playoff game speed”.
      Yet regardless, they were very much still in that game with a chance to steal it.

  5. Rangers Fan in Boston says:

    Completely unrelated, but I wanted to bring up the Gyrba hit on Ellers last night. Am I the only one that thought that wasn’t a dirty hit? I didn’t see any head shot there. I’m the biggest proponent of eliminating head shots in hockey, but I just didn’t see it. To me, that was as much on the breakout pass into the neutral zone as it was on Gyrba.

    Am I wrong?

    • Chris F says:

      I agree. As brutal as the end result was, I didn’t find the hit particularly dirty or malicious. The ice provided the majority of the gruesome visuals.

      • Chris F says:

        Prust wasn’t too pleased with the hit, nor Coach MacLean’s explanation.

        Prust says the Habs don’t care what that “bug-eyed fat walrus” has to say. Ouch.

  6. TxRanger says:

    In a series like this, it’s really a goalie duel. Hank should win. If not, then maybe he’s proving who he really is. Joe Thronton rings a bell.

  7. The Suit says:

    Great post. I’m not worried.

    • Dave says:

      I’m not worried, but they did get outplayed.

      • Rob says:

        It’s tough to play against the Caps and the Ref’s. Did anyone see the blatant non interference call on Ovenchicken last night? He skated 4-5 ft away from the puck and drilled one of our guys in front of the ref.

  8. Dave says:

    So Justin, solid choice with the picture…

  9. Spozo says:

    The Rangers need to do what Ottawa did in game 2 of the Semifinals last season. In that series the Rangers coasted to an easy 4-2 win in game 1. Ottawa took exception to a couple jabs to face of Karlson by Boyle. So what did the Senators due? They rallied around that play and they came out in game 2 and hit everything that moved. They went after Boyle and added a helluva lot of intensity to a series that had no life after game one. They completely changed the series which then became a fight through 7 games.

    I’m not saying the Rangers need to go headhunting like Carkner did to Boyle because we all know you cant put the Capitals on a 5min power play. But they need to find something to rally behind and show the Capitals they are not going to be a pushover. Why not take exceptions to the cross check to the head that Callahan received which he then also took a phantom penalty on?