Washington Capitals vs. New York Rangers First Round Preview
In what is becoming an annual occurrence, the Washington Capitals play the New York Rangers in the playoffs. Last year’s series went seven games with New York winning in Madison Square Garden 2-1 in Game 7. This series started a discussion on the amount of blocked shots in the playoffs. I’m hoping that with Adam Oates instead of Dale Hunter behind the Capitals bench that the series is more entertaining.
Let’s break this series down:
Overall Talent – The Rangers were considered the Stanley Cup favourite entering the season but have scuffled along to the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference even though they may have found their stride with winning five of their last six games. The Capitals started slowly but were one of the hottest teams in the league in March and April, with Alex Ovechkin leading the way. One of the key points of this series is if Brad Richards is his usual awesome playoff self or the Brad Richards who scored 11 goals in 46 games this year. If he is then the Rangers do not have to lean on Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard as much in the playoffs. Rick Nash makes his second appearance in the playoffs and if he steps up like he has in international competition he will be the second best player on the ice after Ovechkin. The Capitals have two scoring lines and two grinding lines and have a slight advantage up front I think. The Rangers however have a slight edge on the blueline. I can’t pick between the two teams based on talent.
Edge – Even
Goaltending – Braden Holtby was a postseason hero last year after leading the team to a first round win over the Boston Bruins. He needs to provide the same heroics to outplay Henrik Lundqvist who was his usual stellar self with a .926 save percentage over 43 games played.
Edge – New York
Coaching – John Tortorella is looking to get the Rangers over the conference final hump after last year’s loss to the Devils. His “heavy hockey” style should be more effective this year with less games played in a lockout-shortened season. I have to give him the edge over rookie coach Adam Oates even though it looks like Oates has finally gotten through to Ovechkin who looks like a Hart Trophy contender for the first time in three years.
Edge – New York
Specialty Teams – Washington had the best power play percentage in the league this year and have a major advantage over New York’s 23rd ranked unit. This edge does get mitigated by Washington having the 27th best penalty kill which makes New York’s power play unit look better. The Rangers were the 15th best penalty killing unit in the league this year. Washington’s power play offsets their bad penalty killing and gives them an edge over the average Rangers’ special teams.
Edge – Washington
This is another even series and I expect low scoring. The keys are Richards/Nash for New York and Holtby for Washington. I think the “heavy hockey” Rangers take this series in 7 games.