If the playoffs started today, the Rangers would be in line for a date with the Capitals in the first round of the NHL playoffs. As Sunday’s 5-2 loss at the hands of Washington would suggest, that could potentially spell serious trouble for one of the top teams in the National Hockey League.
Let’s not beat around the bush here, this guy is downright terrific. Now, has he ever won anything worth writing home about? No, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Russian winger is still arguably the most natural scorer in the game right now, and with 49 goals this season with seven games to play, odds are pretty good that the 29-year-old is going to reach the 50-goal plateau for the sixth time in his 10 year career.
And despite that fact that he has yet to establish himself as a proven winner, “The Great 8” has still performed well during the pressure-filled postseason against the Rangers. In 26 playoff games against New York since the 2009 playoff meeting, Ovechkin has posted 10 goals and 19 points, including an overtime winner during the 2013 series. You can also be sure that he feeds off of any and all boos that pour down from the Garden crowd, especially with the little history that there is between him and the rowdy New York fans…
Alex Ovechkin has the game-changing ability to make a matchup with the Capitals dangerous for any team, but with the expectations as high as they’ve become for the Rangers, it’s just that much more of a concern.
It appears as though Braden Holtby has finally come into his own as a full-time NHL starter. After a few seasons of the whole “will he, won’t he?” drama routine, the 25-year-old Canadian netminder has been the go-to guy for the Capitals all season long, and he’s backstopped them admirably. With a 37-19-9 record, Holtby currently ranks first in the league in games played, third in wins, sixth in goals against average (2.21), and seventh in save percentage (0.923). Those aren’t quite Carey Price numbers, but they’re pretty darn good.
Holtby has also posted pretty good numbers when it’s come to the playoffs, particularly during the 2011-12 postseason with his 0.935 save percentage and 1.95 goals against average over 14 games, seven of which were against the Rangers. Overall, Holtby’s playoff numbers certainly aren’t anything to shrug off, as his 0.931 save percentage and 2.04 goals against average in 21 games is still quite good. It doesn’t matchup to the 92 games of playoff experience that Henrik Lundqvist has, but as most Ranger fans could tell you, some goalies have a weird way of showing up out of nowhere against the Blueshirts. Holtby could give the Rangers fits if a meeting does come to fruition.
Like those goalies who show up against the Rangers, there are certain skaters who are also killers of particular teams, and Jason Chimera is just that for the Rangers. Only once in his career has he scored 20 goals, but for some inexplicable reason, in the playoffs in particular, Chimera shows up to play against New York.
With a career goals per game average of 0.17, Chimera’s average nearly doubles to 0.32 when it comes to playoff games against the Rangers, with six in 19 games. The Washington forward also has four assists to his credit over those 19 games.
He may not be a player who is going to steal the show on a nightly basis, but he shows up to play against New York, and just as Holtby and Ovechkin reminded us on Sunday at MSG how dangerous they could be come playoff time, Chimera too followed suit by scoring twice during the third period including the game winner.
Not an Ideal Matchup
When it all boils down to it, the Rangers are probably the superior team over the Capitals, but that doesn’t mean that a date with Washington would suit New York well come playoffs. These are two very familiar postseason opponents with four playoff meetings over the past six years, and if a playoff meeting is in the cards this season, Ovechkin, Holtby, and Chimera could certainly pose problems for the Rangers in their quest for eternal hockey glory. A date with the Capitals is a potential playoff nightmare for the Rangers.
Jake Gittler is now in his second season as a contributing member of The Hockey Writers. After spending the 2014-15 season working in Communications for Adirondack Flames of the AHL and covering the New York Rangers here for The Hockey Writers, Jake’s coverage has been switched over to the Colorado Avalanche for the 2015-16 season. Jake can be reached via email at Jakegittler@gmail.com, or on Twitter @Jgittler_hockey.