The Washington Capitals currently are tied for the second-best record in the league and have scored the fourth-most goals. However, they can barely get anything done against the perfectly average New York Rangers. The Capitals are 1-3 against the Rangers this season and have only accumulated six total goals in those four games.
Capitals Can’t Figure Out the Rangers
Due to the NHL’s one-year realignment of the division, Washington only has to play seven different teams during the regular season. Their performance against fellow MassMutal East foes is very solid, posting a 20-7-4 record so far. That’s good enough to earn a share of the division lead at 44 points with the New York Islanders. However, it’s not the team from Brooklyn they must worry about; it’s the Manhattan squad.
Besides the Pittsburgh Penguins (but we don’t have to get into that), the Rangers are the only other team in the division the Capitals do not have a winning record against. They also cannot score against the Rangers, averaging a measly 1.5 goals per game, which is substantially less than their offensive efficiency against any other rival.
In the four games the Capitals and Rangers have faced off, Washington has been outscored 6-12. That’s four goals less than the second-worst goal total they’ve managed against a single opponent in the same amount of games. It could be attributed to New York’s bend-but-don’t-break approach.
New York ranks 10th in goals against (2.60) and seventh in shots against (28.3) this season. Their blue line is playing great, but the Capitals have not been able to mustard up enough shots. In their four games against the Rangers, the Capitals have averaged 27.9 shots per game, which is just below their season average of 28. Strangely enough, the one win Washington earned came on their lowest series shot total by far (18). Shot attempts aren’t the Capitals’ forte. However, efficiency is, as they rank 26th in the league for shots per game but third in goals scored at 3.35.
Also, their stars aren’t necessarily being contained. Of the six goals they’ve scored against the Rangers, John Carlson, Carl Hagelin, and Dimitri Orlov each have one, and Alexander Ovechkin has three. However, two of his tallies came in a marvelous seven-minute span on Friday night to give the Capitals their only win against the Rangers in their 2020-21 season series.
The issue could be the Capitals’ inability to earn high-scoring chances against the Rangers. The Capitals have created 363 scoring chances against opponents this season, which is 54 more than the league average. Yet, they just can’t seem to find many openings against a stingy Rangers’ defense — and a trio of netminders have come up big for New York as well.
Who’s in Net?
On occasion, a goalie can be in the zone against a certain team. It could be because of superstition, spite, or perhaps the perplexity that has consumed the opposition to the point where their play is greatly affected before the game even begins. Braden Holtby had this effect on the Boston Bruins. As a member of the Capitals, Holtby had a career record of 18-4 against Boston.
Yet, three different Rangers’ goalies have defeated the Capitals this season, so there is no specific Manhattan thorn in Washington’s side this season. Igor Shesterkin is 2-0, Alexander Georgiev has the Rangers’ lone loss, and Keith Kinkaid has the other victory.
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The Rangers’ goalies have posted an impressive .935 save percentage (SV%) against Washington this season, but New York is simply disrupting the Capitals. In the four games played, the Rangers have blocked 69 shots, forced 22 giveaways, and held the Capitals scoreless on all thirteen of their power plays, which is a huge part of Washington’s offense. It’s not necessarily just the lack of high-scoring chances, the defensive efficiency, or whoever is in goal, but rather the overall flow of the game. Frankly, the Rangers are in the Capitals’ heads. What’s new?
The mental game may be something that’s specifically dedicated to this regular season, however. The last season the Capitals posted a losing record against the Rangers was 2014-15. In fact, in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 campaigns, Washington was 7-0-1 against New York.
The anguish usually comes from postseason heartbreak.
The Rangers have owned the Capitals in the Stanley Cup Playoffs as of late. New York leads 5-4 in head-to-head playoff series but has won the last three — all Game 7 clinchers. Perhaps there is always that lingering thought of miserable ends to seasons past, but that will be sorted out if the teams were to meet again in the playoffs.
As for now, Washington shouldn’t worry, for this season may be more of an anomaly than a future trend — hopefully. At least the very-near future. The issue is winning the games the team is supposed to win. The New Jersey Devils and the Buffalo Sabres are not having the greatest seasons, but the Capitals have taken care of business when given the opportunity. They are a combined 9-0-1 against both this season. The Capitals play the Rangers four more times in 2020-21. They can still end up with a winning record against New York, but they need to create more quality scoring chances. Their record against the Rangers could ultimately decide playoff positioning and who wins the tight MassMutual East.
Carl Knauf is an author and master journalist (so the degree says). He specializes in sports–primarily hockey–music, and the publishing industry. His sports writing has been featured on The Hockey Writers, Last Word On Sports, and local newspapers in his home state of New Mexico. Carl covers the Washington Capitals and Buffalo Sabres with accurate reporting and detailed analysis to help readers answer basic and burning questions such as, “Why did the Capitals not win the Stanley Cup (again)?” and, “When will this damn Sabres rebuild finally end?”
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