It took just 17:49 for the Rangers to jump out to a 3-0 lead last night, a lead they never relinquished en route to a 4-1 win. Turnovers, bad penalties, and shaky goaltending sunk the Caps early, and the Rangers are not a team that will give up a three-goal lead. Henrik Lundqvist was strong, making 24 saves –a lot of them difficult– as he inched closer to Mike Richter’s all-time Rangers win record. He and Rick Nash –who scored twice– need to be the best players on the ice, and they were.
When the game started, I think most of us wanted to see if the Rangers could finally solve Phillipp Grubauer. They did, to the tune of three goals on eight shots. The Caps defense was pretty bad, and again the combination of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh limited the opposition’s top line to zero even strength goals. When the Rangers are clicking like this, there’s no stopping them.
On to the goals:
Rangers 1, Caps 0
Dmitry Orlov made a pretty bad pass to Nicklas Backstrom to break out, but Nash picked off the pass for the break-in on Grubauer. Grubauer didn’t stand a chance. It was an awful pass from Orlov. Even if it doesn’t get picked off, Backstrom was going to get destroyed by a hit once he collected the puck.
Rangers 2, Caps 0
There’s no real defensive breakdown here, not like there are any breakdowns on 5-on-3 goals. Nash just kept looking five-hole on Grubauer and simply hit his target for the goal.
Rangers 3, Caps 0
While technically not a powerplay goal, the goal came just as the 5-on-4 expired. This time around it was Derek Stepan who threw the puck on net –after a slight change of direction before the shot– with Chris Kreider in front. This is what happens with screens and shots on goal, they sometimes go in. You can make an argument that one of Orlov or Mike Green should have pushed Kreider from the front of the net, but Green had to be cognizant of Dan Girardi low, and Orlov had to keep an eye on Nash in the slot. This goal chased Grubauer.
Caps 1, Rangers 3
Kreider and Carl Hagelin took two bad penalties, Kreider’s in the offensive zone. That led to a Caps 5-on-3, and you simply can’t give the Caps a two-man advantage. All Alex Ovechkin had to do was hit his spot. He did.
Rangers 4, Caps 1
Backstrom turned the puck over on the powerplay in the offensive zone with a blind backhand pass. The puck went right to Dom Moore, who broke down the ice with Ryan Callahan. Orlov, who had a rough game, couldn’t get back in time, and Cally out-muscled him to get to the juicy rebound left by Braden Holtby for the shorthanded goal. Moore’s initial shot was low and hard, designed to generate that kind of rebound for Cally to bury.
This wasn’t pure domination from the Rangers, despite what the final score says. The chart is skewed a bit because it includes all situations, which gives the Caps a 53% Fenwick advantage. But the numbers at 5v5 close (+/- two goals) were more of an even split. The Rangers flat lined as the game came to a close, but that’s just score effects taking its toll on the shot attempts. That’s when the Caps took over the shot attempt lead. Flat lining like that with a three goal lead is the norm for most teams in the third period. Nothing to be alarmed about.
We’ve said that this team will only go as far as Hank and Nash take them. Both were ice-cold to start the year, and now they have finally become the two best players on the ice on a consistent basis. This isn’t to discount the rest of the team, which is playing great hockey, but those two have finally gotten going. There are five games left in this month –three against the Islanders– and there’s no reason to think this streak can’t continue to the Olympic break.