One thing was clear from the beginning of the Capitals’ eventual 4-1 win over the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers – the home team was not afraid to instigate physical play.
Granted hits are a subjective statistic that varies in each arena around the league so this comment comes with that disclosure, but Washington was credited with five hits in the first 3 minutes 44 seconds. The final one of that sample was Alex Ovechkin leveling Dan Girardi a few feet inside the Rangers’ defensive blueline.
The hits weren’t always the plays like Ovechkin’s against Girardi that drew flashy attention and applause but just the simple ones that forced a Ranger to cough up a puck and allowed Washington to escape its own zone or force a turnover. Those are the type of checks that Coach Dale Hunter wants to see plenty of.
“Everybody played,” Hunter said. “It’s up to them on the ice to do the little things like blocking shots, taking a hit on the boards to get it out of our own end. …We did it very well tonight. We were physical on the boards and got pucks out, the team sacrificed their body to win.”
In addition to the 22 hits they were credited with, the Capitals didn’t shy away from taking physical punishment. Washington blocked 20 shots – Roman Hamrlik led with five while Karl Alzner and John Carlson had four and three, respectively.
Stopping shots before they even reach Tomas Vokoun takes pressure off of the goaltender, and when protecting a lead in a tight game as the Capitals were against New York it can be an invaluable asset.
“All through the lineup guys were just playing tough not letting guys get free passes in front of our net playing hard on our cycle,” Troy Brouwer said. “When you play tough, when you play hard it makes it hard for the other team to create anything.”