There’s going to be much more written in coming days about how the Capitals and Rangers stack up, but here are a few matchups that should be intriguing to watch all series long.
Alex Ovechkin vs Dan Girardi and Marc Staal
The Capitals didn’t face the Rangers’ top defensive pair at full strength in either of the final two meetings of the regular season but Girardi and Staal will likely be the duo tasked with mirroring Ovechkin’s line. Even without that pairing fully intact, Ovechkin didn’t score a single goal against the Rangers this season, only picked up two assists and finished with a minus-1.
With Girardi and Staal playing in their fifth and fourth NHL seasons respectively, having both back in the lineup certainly won’t make things any easier for Ovechkin or the Capitals’ other stars. Look for Coach Bruce Boudreau to try to perhaps shake the matchup when he has the last line change at home in Verizon Center.
Rangers’ shot blocking vs Capitals’ offense
Everyone knows the Capitals haven’t been scoring as many goals this sason as they did in years past with an average of 2.67 this season. Where their diligence in making the most of the opportunities they get, working for second-chance shots and crashing the net needs to be heightened is the playoffs particularly against the Rangers.
New York has a well-deserved reputation as a team that relies on team defense and shot-blocking to help out goaltender Henrik Lundvist. Granted the shot-blocking stat is something that is subject to varying interpretation depending on what building the game is being played in, but the Rangers finished fourth in the league with 1,301and there’s no question they will readily throw themselves in front of any and every shot possible. (The Capitals had 1,257 blocks themselves this season for seventh best.)
That means on any scoring chance, whether five-on-five or with the man-advantage, the Capitals’ will need to consciously find ways to get the puck on net, whether around or above those bodies. The more chances that fizzle away by a shot into a shin pad or pucks that bounce out into the neutral zone after being blocked to create a rush the other way will only benefit the Rangers.
The Capitals vs the King
Henrik Lundqvist has more shutouts this season (11) than any other goaltender in the NHL. It’s a new career record for the Swedish goaltender and it’s the first time the Rangers have had a netminder earn double-digit shutouts since 1928-29 when John Ross Roach set the franchise record with 13.
Several teams in the Eastern Conference have goaltenders who could steal a few games, perhaps even a series, and Lundqvist is easily included in that category. The Capitals have first-hand experience with Lundqvist’s ability to alter the outcome of a contest from regular season matchups to the series in 2009 when he frustrated them.
Over the course of his career against the Capitals, Lundqvist is 14-10-2 (including the playoffs) with a save percentage of .906 and goals-against average of 2.81. The Capitals will need to do what they’ve talked about all year and create plenty of traffic and search for the second-chance opportunities to make sure that they don’t make Lundqvist’s job too easy.