Just last night, the PuckBuddys took delivery of their brand-spankin’-new ginormous UHD TV-monster. We’ve never actually had HD before, so we’re particularly excited to get it just in time for the start of the Rangers/Caps series, so we can actually see every moment that will make us want to vomit in crisp detail.
There’s a lot to feel good about how the Capitals are performing. The Isles series forced them to speed up and sharpen play, and assuming the last game wasn’t an outlier, this is a squad that can take it to anyone. Still, we are up against the Rangers. Again. It’s beginning to feel like the Möbius Strip of playoff hockey.
Once again, we were lucky enough to get a few minutes with Neill Fowler— owner, operator, editor and bottle-washer at New York Rangers Blog, to get his thoughts on the Rangers, the Caps, the series, and why playoff hockey makes us so nauseated.
The Rangers are clearly a quality team, and they – and Rick Nash in particular – sort of had the Caps number in regular season. But this first round sharpened up our guys, including Holtby. What difference did you see between regular season Rangers and playoff Rangers so far?
So far, there hasn’t been too much of a difference between regular season Rangers and playoff Rangers. The Rangers early in the season wouldn’t have been able to hold one-goal leads in the way they did four times against the Penguins in the first round, before they badly outscored teams on their way to victories. I’ve had and still have concerns about the Rangers raising their “battle level” to match teams that had something to play for, for all 82 games, while the Rangers were still on cruise control, resting players. The Rangers did just enough to get by Pittsburgh in the first round and just enough won’t win playoff series from here on out.
The Caps and Islanders were well-matched, although I’d have to give the Isles the edge in speed. I think that forced the Caps to play faster than usual, leading to a lot of sloppy passes and whiffed attempts. I think the Rangers also have the edge here– do you agree, and how do you see that playing out on the ice?
The Islanders may be a fast team, but it’s no secret that the Rangers may be the fastest team in the NHL, from Chris Kreider, Carl Hagelin, and Jesper Fast on down. And you can’t hit what you can’t catch. I’ll admit I didn’t watch a ton of the Caps-Isles series, but what I did notice in game seven, was how out of gas the Islanders were in that game.
Perhaps it was due to the Islanders injuries on their blue line, the physical nature of the series wore them down too much, who knows? But when the Rangers are at their best is when they move the puck quickly out of their end and through the neutral zone, keeping defensemen on their heels the whole game and winning the puck battles in the corners and along the half wall. If the Caps opt to pinch their defensemen into the offensive zone to create chances, it will be at their own peril.
So far the Caps demonstrated, as in the game seven second period, they can bring sustained pressure in the o-zone while not giving up on the physical play. Who on the Rangers do you see trying to short-circuit that and how?
First off, the Rangers really don’t have anyone that will match the Capitals pound for pound, specifically when you start looking towards the bottom of the lineups. Yeah, the Rangers have Tanner Glass and James Sheppard, who comes in for a concussed Mats Zuccarello that can throw the body around, and Dan Girardi leads the Rangers in hits. If the Capitals are able to keep the puck away from the Rangers for extended periods of time, the Capitals wearing down the Rangers on the boards will become an issue without question.
The Isles had some success shadowing Ovechkin with Boychuk and shutting him down somewhat. How do you see the Rangers trying to limit the Caps’ Ovi/Backstrom/Ward first line?
By now you guys know about Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal et al. and the battles they’ve had with Ovechkin, Backstrom and Co. over the years. The Rangers issue with Ovechkin won’t be about stopping him at even strength but rather with the Capitals on the power play.
Four of Ovechkin’s five goals against the Rangers this season came on the power play. Whatever the Rangers have done tactically against the Capitals does not work and will be a major issue the Ranger coaching staff will have to address. The best way to do this is not taking any penalties to begin with and playing whistle to whistle like Alain Vigneault has preached since the beginning of the playoffs.
[Ed. note: if you feel like you want to read a little more, or just want to punch yourself in the face over and over, drop on over to http://www.nyrangersblog.com for the PuckBuddys second round preview.]
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