These aren’t the same Capitals

Though it seems like the Rangers and Capitals clash in the playoffs every year, this Washington team is very different than the one the Blueshirts have met three times in the last four postseasons.

In some ways, the roles have been reversed. Whereas John Tortorella’s Black and Blueshirts were known for their grind it out style and fearless defense, former Capitals squads possessed all-world skill but lacked a winning mentality. Now it is Alain Vigneault’s team that is known for its speed and skill while Washington has adapted a more gritty defense-first style.

You only needed to watch the clinic the Caps put on in Monday’s pivotal Game 7 against the Islanders when they allowed just 11 shots to see the marked difference.

Defensive mastermind Barry Trotz deserves much of the credit, but as an organization the Capitals have put much more emphasis on playing both ways. Though the contracts were outlandish, Washington buoyed its blueline by signing former Penguins Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen last July. Those moves along with the hiring of Trotz represented a change in philosophy, and it has resulted in immediate success.

The best example of the change is of course Alex Ovechkin, whom a parade of coaches have tried, and for the most part, failed to mold. But you’ll see no more “disconnected controller” plays from The Great 8. He’ll never be confused with Pavel Datsyuk, but Ovechkin is more than just a 53-goal scorer now, he’s been more committed to his own end and playing the body for most of the season.

The new mindset is also evident in Trotz’s lineup construction, where he now frequently separates Ovechkin and his longtime center, Nicklas Backstrom while giving more minutes to glue guys like Joel Ward, Tom Wilson and Jason Chimera.

It can be seen clearly through both #fancystats, where the Capitals had better possession metrics than any year since 2009-2010, and traditional, where Braden Holtby enjoyed by far the best season of his career.

Make no mistake – this Capitals team is now very difficult to play against. And without Mats Zuccarello, New York’s advantage in speed and overall skill has been greatly reduced. The Blueshirts’ commitment to team defense is never in question, but the Capitals now have the ability to match them.


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  • All you say is true, but again the main point was missed. This team is well coached, and does play tight defense, but they are now the newest version of the Filthadelphia Flyers, they are dirty SOB’s.

    Look at the series with the Isles, and some remarks made by their goons. One of their players commented that although a hit was dirty, it was worth it because they took out an Islander in the process.

    Look, I love a physical, well played game, good hits, great passing, but clean. This collection is dirty as hell, and it could get nasty out there. Let’s see if the word comes down from Buttman to tighten up the game, and call the dirty plays when they occurs!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Completely agree Walt. I am disgusted by what the league tolerates from Wilson, Gleason, Ovie and others. (Don’t get me started on Subban, but that’s for another series). Borderline hit after borderline hit ignored by player safety. And Laich actually goes public with his line about a “good penalty” reducing the Isles D corps (the Wilson hit on Visnovsky). Dave Schultz or Dave Brown couldn’t have said it better. Sure, the Caps shot blocking and grit are there but if the Caps win this series it will be due to the damage they inflict not by being the better team. All these rule changes to foster speed and then when the playoffs roll around, we turn a blind eye to blatant rule violations? Would the NFL ignore chop blocks in the playoffs? I don’t think so.

    • The Rangers play better when a team tries to run them out of the building. If the Caps want to try and injure the Rangers, they will be behind on the scoreboard all night.

      • Can’t wait to see all the three on ones the Rangers get in Game 1 thanks to the Capitals running around trying to launch everyone into the first row.

        I think Nash is going to have a huge series, he’ll be racking up assists off of Brassard and MSL goals.

  • While the Caps play a very physical game, they also possess talent at both ends of the rink. The case could be made that they are the most well-balanced team in the league, when they play with their heads.

    Power Play – Ovie is deadly on their PP. We do not have a single player who can match his ability to get open and get a shot off. On the flip side, we do not take a lot of penalties. We need to continue that streak. On our PP, we need to make them pay for their stupidity. The isles showed no ability to score on the PP. We need to.

    Goaltending – I feel we have an edge here.

    Overall defense – I feel we are deeper, bringing 6 guys who can play at anytime (okay 5, but Boyle does have positive moments).

    Team Play – I think we are better and show a team chemistry that goes unmatched. That said, Nash, MSL, Stepan and Kreider need to be more than second assist guys this series.

    • Personally, outside of Alzner and Carlson I’m not a fan of Washington’s D corps.

      Orpik and Gleason are red and white traffic cones. Green and Niskanen are wildly overrated thanks to a few seasons of posting inflated point totals playing with Ovi and Sid and Malkin.

      If the Rangers play their game and ignore all the Capitals after whistles crap (the Isles failed miserably at that) they should be able to pull out this series.

      • Orpik and Gleason will have trouble, and it’s up to AV to match speed on that pairing. Green isn’t good defensively, but Niskanen is solid.

      • I always see comments about guys like orpik and green and kunitz having inflated points because of their linemates…

        I dislike these guys as much as anyone but isn’t that the point? Isn’t the advantage of having NHL greats on your team that they make other players better?

        The only reason why I comment on this one is because Green and Niskanen are STILL with Ovi… Their points may be inflated but their games ARE elevated because of their linemate(s)…

        One-on-one, ill take your comment to the bank… when these guys pinch in on the rush with Ovi, they are just as dangerous as some of the formidable tandems in the league…

  • i am thoroughly looking forward to this series. so far, this section of my bracket is going as planned (can’t say the same for the west thanks to stl/wpg not showing up).

    anywho, the caps we’re a surprise team of mine to come out of the east, before I decided to let my fandom take over with the rangers repeating their cup appearance. needless to say, i don’t think we can sleep on this team and dave did a good job of highlighting my fears in the write up.

    this is my first year attempting to grow a playoff beard and i’d hate for it to end in the second round. i am excited to see sheppard slot in the line up and fast should have no problem on the third line. in fact, that third line should be stronger when it comes to possession and i’m looking for them to chip in a few this series. step/kreider/miller need to have a strong series and obviously the biggest question mark will be how msl fares in a top line role.

    oh, and my punctutation is because #nocaps

  • The keys to this series are to stay disciplined and out of the box, as well as to really work on Holtby by moving the puck a lot, and taking lots of shots. While the Capitals have improved their line depth defense in general, as we saw in the last game we played them where we mauled them, they are not on the level of Boston, Kings, Chicago, or Tampa in being able to neutralize our transition game. The transition game is where we excel, in addition to our ability to give Lundqvist clean shots to save (using the Vally royal mile analysis).

    However, the loss of MZA is very troubling as it forces us to shuffle our relatively well balanced lines. MSL has been a black hole even though he has received easy minutes with Hayes. It puts a lot of pressure on Shep and Glass on the fourth line. If those guys are ever on the ice with Ovie, watch out.

    It also highlights the absolute absurd off-season and in-season moves the front office had for the fourth line (boyle and dorsett in, and then moves for glass, stemp, lombardi, shep,etc). This has been mitigated by the development of Miller, Hayes, and Fast. Additionally, the trading away of Stemp in hindsight looks foolish, as he provided much needed depth.

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