During the Capitals’ second period push during game two against the Rangers, it looked like New York’s top defense pair of Marc Staal and Dan Girardi had tired legs. As the game continued and the Caps focused on locking down the neutral zone, it became very apparent that the Rangers’ blue liners were not moving their feet much. In both of the games, it seemed like Rangers head coach John Tortorella was rolling only four of his six defensemen and I thought it might be contributing to their lack of effort in the game one overtime and second half of game two. So, I decided to take a look at the time on ice numbers on NHL.com this morning.
As of this morning, Staal and Girardi sit first and second in time on ice for the playoffs with 57:11 and 56:31, respectively. They have each played just a few minutes shy of half the total time played in the first two games of the series. The Caps with the most time one ice are Scott Hannan and Jeff Schultz at 50:13 and 48:02. These top pairs for each club are averaging 51 seconds of ice time per shift. However, Staal and Girardi have taken 67 shifts each while Hannan has only been on the ice 59 times and Schultz, 57.
Staal and Girardi have seen about a minute more (6:00 each) of shorthanded ice time than the top pair of Hannan and Schultz (about 5:00 each). This is consistent with the penalties in minutes for the two clubs so far. The Rangers have been in the box for 12 minutes and the Caps for 8 minutes. The two top pairs for both clubs are clearly the workhorses when down a man. Penalty killing minutes are hard minutes. There is more ice to cover and power play units can pressure and check (not hit) penalty killers with two men. With Staal and Girardi being relied on so heavily on the kill, it has to be taking a physical toll. The same could be said for Hannan and Schultz however, their time is being limited in other situations.
So far in the series, we have seen Bruce Boudreau limit the use of defensemen at the point on the power play. This results in the only Caps defensemen cracking the top 10 in time on ice during the power play being Mike Green and John Carlson with 3:08 and 1:35. For the Rangers, the top defense pair with the man advantage is Bryan McCabe and Marc Staal with 5:49 and 4:19. The Blueshirts’ second unit includes defensemen Dan Girardi and Matt Gilroy who have racked up 2:11 and 1:50 in ice time respectively. This clearly shows a discrepancy in ice time between the Caps and Rangers power play personnel that has contributed to more time on ice for the top pair of Staal and Girardi. This can be directly attributed to the Caps coaching staff putting five forwards on the ice as their first power play unit.
Clearly, Marc Staal and Dan Girardi are being used by John Tortorella and his staff in all game situations, while the Caps are strategically distributing ice time amongst all of their players. The Rangers top defensive pair is averaging 28 minutes, every other night, against the top lines of the Washington Capitals. This has to be contributing to some fatigue.
The heavy use of Staal and Girardi could be a product of the Capitals holding the last change as the home team in the first two games. Tortorella is generally considered a pretty good, match-up coach. Especially, if he has the last change. It will be interesting to see how his players respond at home in Madison Square Garden, when he calls their numbers.