The Capitals are quite familiar with what makes the New York Rangers so successful – a gritty, one-for-all attitude that thrives off blocking shots complemented by a world-class goaltender and, this year, a more consistent offensive output.
Roll it all together and it provides a picture of why the Rangers lead the Eastern Conference with 75 points (35-13-5).
“We’re going up against an extremely confident team,” Matt Hendricks said. “They were already incredibly tough to play against.We’ve got to really hunker down in our zone, play extremely well defensively and when we get opportunities to score we’ve got to score. They block so many shots, play such great team defense we have to make the most of the chances we get.”
New York is third in the league in blocked shots with 466 on the season and of all the team’s traits it may require more adjustment from opponents than any other.
It’s not unusual on any given shift to see a Ranger hustling to another location on the ice so they can dive in front of an opponent in order to prevent pucks from reaching goaltenders Henrik Lundqvist and Marty Biron. The strategy can force opposing offenses to over-think as they try to get shots through and can lead to odd man rushes the other way for the Rangers.
“They slide, and you’ve got to really concentrate on getting shots through because they go down so much. And they’re led by their captain, [Ryan] Callahan. He has the unique style to block a lot of shots,” said Coach Dale Hunter, who is as concerned with making sure New York can’t spring free on breakaways after blocking shots as he is with getting the Capitals’ shots through.
Shot selection and making smart decisions on the forecheck is key to sustaining offensive zone pressure against the Rangers, unless a team wants to watch them block everything. Washington has shown to be successful at adapting its style of play, as was evidenced back on Dec. 29 at Verizon Center when it captured a 4-1 win over the Blueshirts.
“We have to find ways to get pucks through,” Dennis Wideman said. “And when you can’t just got to put it down cycle and live to shoot another day.”
Even for stay-at-home defensemen like Karl Alzner playing the Rangers requires an additional focus on making the correct decision to jump start the offense whether on breakout plays or outlet passes.
“It’s tough enough as it is nowadays to get pucks through. Not only do you have to get it past that first guy, who’s incredibly good at blocking it, but you’ve got to get it past guys like [Dan] Girardi, who’s trying to knock down everything,” Alzner said. “They just make it really hard on all of us.
“We gotta make sure we have a forward coming up and dish it off to them,” Alzner continued. “Because we can shoot the puck all day, but it’s going to get blocked all day. It’s just not worth it.”