In this article, THW writers Greg Caggiano and Matt Leighton gave their thoughts on their respective teams and what they have to do to win this Eastern Conference Quarterfinal battle.
Washington Capitals (ML): All eyes will be on Alex Ovechkin in this series, but Washington’s offense is much more complex than just the League’s reigning MVP. Nicklas Backstrom has been the catalyst for Ovechkin and others, but was pushed around in last season’s match up against the Flyers before scoring in the final four games of the series. Mike Green will lead breakouts, but if New York can slow down these three and Alexander Semin, the Rangers’ job has just gotten a whole lot easier. Brooks Laich will need to crash the net and players like Eric Fehr, Tomas Fleischmann, and Sergei Fedorov need to get on the score sheet to help out the Big Four.
New York Rangers (GC): When looking at the standings, the Rangers offense seems very lacking, but ever since John Tortorella took the helm, the Rangers have been playing a much more fast-paced, up-tempo game; and the results are showing. Glen Sather has also made up for his blunders this off-season by acquiring Nik Antropov, Derek Morris and Sean Avery, all of which have helped the nearly non-existent power play. The Capitals offense is greater, but under this new system the Rangers will be able to at least hang with them. The key however will be to get the puck in deep and put pressure on Capitals’ D-man Mike Green, who loves offense more then his own position. If the Blue Shirts can dump the puck on his side and pressure him, not only will they exploit his weak defensive game, but also keep him off the score sheet.
Washington Capitals (ML): When Green attacks, he leaves a gaping hole behind him for partner Tom Poti. The Capitals have seen their rush blow up in their face and turn into an odd-man rush for the opposition, sometimes leading to a goal. Poti is still questionable for Game 1 and if he is unable to go, Brian Pothier would take his spot. The Capitals’ blue-liners have size (Jeff Schultz 6’6, Milan Jurcina 6’4, John Erskine 6’4, and Shaone Morrisonn 6’4), but lack speed and have trouble getting the puck out of their zone when Green is on the bench.
New York Rangers (GC): Here is where we have the first advantage going to the Rangers. During the regular season they let in nearly thirty fewer goals then the Capitals, with Marc Staal and Paul Mara leading the way. Newcomer Derek Morris has also helped by adding some much needed toughness in front of the net and giving the Rangers a good, hard, low shot from the point. Staal has had experience covering Alex Ovechkin and will likely be his shadow in the series.
Washington Capitals (ML): There is no goalie controversy in D.C. this time around; Jose Theodore will start for the Caps, with either a banged-up Brent Johnson or inexperienced Simeon Varlamov as back-up. This is one category where I would not mind switching personnel. Henrik Lundqvist can single-handedly change games. This season, Henrik went 1-1-1/3.57/.882 versus Washington and Jose went 2-0-1/3.05/.886 against the Rangers. Both are mediocre statistics for two experienced playoff goalies. It should be noted that Theodore is 4-0 in the first round, but this is the first year he will play for a team that is seeded higher than the 6th seed.
New York Rangers (GC): The Rangers hands down have the edge in goaltending with Henrik Lundqvist as the last line of defense. Matt mentioned his mediocre stats against the Capitals this season, which was under a floundering Tom Renney team. He will likely have much more support and toughness under the new coaching staff, and continues to make big saves in the clutch, such as this one where he robbed Daniel Carcillo of the Flyers in the game the Rangers clinched a playoff spot with.
Washington Capitals (ML): The Capitals’ Power Play finished first in the East and can strike from any number of ways. Ovechkin on the back-door pass, Mike Green from the point, and Alexander Semin from the slot are all viable options for the Caps. Backstrom lead all Capitals with 28 Power Play assists. Washington does have a tendency to get over-aggressive and that has led to plenty of short-handed opportunities for the opposition. While the Capitals are head and shoulders above New York with the extra man, the Rangers lead the NHL in Penalty Killing. If grinder and face-off specialist Boyd Gordon remains sidelined, the Caps could be in for trouble if they wind up in the box.
New York Rangers (GC): The two p0wer plays facing off against one another in this series are like night and day, with the Capitals having the heavy edge over the Rangers, who finished 29th in the NHL and dead last in the Eastern conference. Although it has seen a slight improvement over the last week of the season it is still very week and they need to wake up because come playoff time, games are won and lost by how you play with the man advantage (or disadvantage). Wade Redden desperately needs to step up in this situation as he has throughout his career. On the penalty killing side, the Rangers had the best kill in the entire league due to hard workers such as Blair Betts, Ryan Callahan and Lauri Korpikoski. The saying goes how all good things much come to an end, so the Rangers cannot afford to live dangerously and must retain their discipline.
Washington Capitals (ML): Both coaches have won the Jack Adams Trophy, but only Tortorella can say he has his name on the Stanley Cup. Boudreau implements an aggressive style that results in odd-man rushes for both teams. Washington will be looking for revenge after Torts and the Tampa Bay Lightning eliminated Washington four games to one in the 2003 Quarterfinals.
New York Rangers (GC): John Tortorella may be the single reason why the Rangers made the playoffs, after he took over a tanking team led by the passive, defensive minded Tom Renney. Over the last two months, the Rangers have undergone a transformation from a five-in-the-frame trapping team to an all out offensive attack. They are still working the kinks out but I’m much more comfortable with he and assistant coach Jim Schoenfeld at the helm, both of whom who have had some well known “words” involving playoff games.
Washington Capitals (ML): It’s going to be interesting to see how Sean Avery deals with Washington’s finesse players, but nobody on New York is named ‘Ovechkin,’ and Ovi is not afraid to get physical either. The Rangers have the playoff experience, but when the Capitals play the way they can (See: 16-4 record from November 26- January 6), it’s going to be hard to stop them.
New York Rangers (GC): Sean Avery is clearly the X-factor for the Rangers in this series, and he is already drawing attention. Jay Feaster of THN wrote yesterday an entire article devoted to saying how the NHL should stop Avery. Although he didn’t say it in exact words, he basically said that Avery should be penalized every time he hits the ice until he learns his lesson. Possibly the most biased piece of writing I have ever read. In the last two playoff series’ Avery played a key role: in 2007 against Atlanta’s Kovalchuk and last season against New Jersey’s Brodeur. He won’t be able to get under AO’s skin, but a easier target would be that of Alex Semin, who has shown to be easily frustrated.