The New York Rangers and Washington Capitals will meet for the 5th time in the past 7 years in the playoffs. Throughout the years the teams have had different philosophy’s, and this season it boils down to speed vs. size. Whomever can implement their game plan the best will be going to the Conference Finals.
The Rangers Speed
The Rangers won the Presidents Trophy this year by out skating their opponents. Their style allowed them to finish the year tied for 3rd in the NHL in goals for with 252, while also finishing the year 3rd in goals against with 192. Sound commitment to both fore-checking and back checking allowed the Rangers to play such a well-rounded game. What the Capitals have that the Rangers don’t is a tremendous amount of size. The Washington game plan will likely revolve around them playing a game in the trenches. The Rangers would like to be physical as well, it just seems that they know their skill game is better than their scrappy one.
The Head Coach of the Rangers Alain Vigneault told Michael Kay on the Yes Network about the physicality of the series, “One of our themes is play whistle to whistle, were not gonna get involved in things going on after, but during the whistle to whistle, if we could lay the foundation for a few good body checks and wear the opposition down, were certainly going to do that. In Washington’s case their certainly going to do that. There a big team, a physical team that plays a good defensive game and on top of that they’ve got a couple of superstars.” Washington made a conscious effort to attack the Islanders defense physically in the 1st round, and they will try to do the same thing against the Rangers.
Below is the kind of play that displays exactly what the Rangers want to do, and what Washington wants to prevent. Dan Girardi sees he has nothing to pass to, he moves the puck to Keith Yandle, who splits the defense with a pass and sends the speedster Carl Hagelin in alone for a goal.
For the Rangers to Win
The Rangers will win if the don’t get sucked into a trench war. If their defenders can beat the Capitals fore check and deliver a clean break out pass they will create tons of chances and Washington’s sound defense will eventually make a mistake. The Rangers forwards need to support well, and work up the ice with short quick passes, to be able to elude the pressure and trap Washington players behind the play. Alain Vigneault spoke to the media about his teams mindset “We will try to play to our strengths, a fast game, quick north, south game. We know what to expect and will try to play to our strengths.”
The Capitals Size
The Capitals play a straight forward hit first mentality, starting with their best player Alexander Ovechkin who will try to run anyone in his path through the boards. Wingers like Joel Ward, Jason Chimera, Troy Brouwer, Tom Wilson, and Curtis Glencross all follow suit, in that they always try to get in on the fore check and grind down defenders.
Barry Trotz told the media on Wednesday about what the Rangers do well, and what he thinks his team has to do to neutralize the threat, “They try to stretch the zone, they have guys that will fly the zone, and it’s all based on possession and all based on time. How much time they have, if they don’t have much time their not gonna be leaving the zone.”
Plays like the one below are the types Washington will not hesitate to make. Notice Wilson gets the puck deep, sees the defender, and finishes a hard clean check with authority. This play actually hurt Visnovsky, and he missed the rest of the series. Don’t be surprised if the Capitals try to steam roll the Rangers back-end in a similar fashion. In general you shouldn’t expect much pretty stuff from the Capitals 2nd, 3rd, and 4th lines, they will play high percentage and try to grind.
Through the first round of the playoffs the Capitals threw 313 hits in their 7 games played, the only team with more was their opponent the New York Islanders who finished the series with 317. The Rangers on the other hand finished their opening series having thrown just 172 hits in 5 games.
For the Capitals to Win
The Capitals will win if their forwards can limit the Rangers defense from breaking out of the zone quickly. If the Capitals pin the Rangers, they have the size to win board battles and screen Henrik Lundqvist. The offensive zone pressure will allow Braden Holtby to not be over worked, and will allow the Capitals defense to easily neutralize a slowed Rangers offense.
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