In less than two minutes, the Washington Capitals went from returning home with a 3-2 series advantage to facing elimination in game six. Goals from Brad Richards and Marc Staal, tied up game five with less than 7 seconds remaining and won the game for the Rangers in OT, respectively. The Caps have shown a resiliency in these playoffs that we have not seen in a long time. They will have to draw upon that to extend this series.
- The New York Rangers owned game five. They out shot the Capitals 38-18 in the game with a whopping 17-6 shots advantage in the first period. The Rangers also out hit the Caps 29-14. The Capitals have to pick up the intensity in game six and push back.
- The Rangers scored the first goal in game five off an Anton Stralman shot where he showed patience and changed his angle of attack to get a shot through the Caps defense and Braden Holtby. The Rangers continued to wait out Caps defenders and get pucks through attempted shot blocks. The Capitals have to adjust. Look for Caps defenders to pressure Rangers players and play a tighter game at the tops of the circles to take away time and space.
- Let’s look at hockey karma for a moment. Dennis Wideman clearly tripped a Rangers player below the Caps’ goal line and got away with it. At that time, I immediately knew that gift would come back to haunt the Caps. Sure enough, Joel Ward took a 4 minute high sticking penalty shortly after Wideman’s transgression. Play hard but play smart.
- Speaking of Joel Ward, despite the popular, casual hockey fan opinion this loss isn’t all on him. I’m pointing the finger at two critical face off losses that led to the Richards and Staal goals. On both of those plays, the Capitals lost defensive zone draws on the penalty kill. The Rangers were able to work the puck back to the point and get shots through failed Capitals’ shot block attempts. For the game, the Caps were only 13% effective at the dot while short-handed. That number has to improve in game six.
- Special teams are always critical in the playoffs. The Capitals did boast a better than 90% penalty kill rate for most of the first two rounds. They have now slipped to a mediocre 85.7% PK as the Rangers have found ways to get pucks to the net. On the power play, the Caps continue to struggle at 17.1% efficiency. Again, winning short-handed face offs is key for improvement on the penalty kill. On the power play, look for personnel changes like removing Aucoin from the second unit and Wideman from the first defense pair.
- After the last two games, Dale Hunter should sit Dennis Wideman for game six. He is a liability. Hunter should also sit his partner Jeff Schultz for the same reason. Keith Aucoin has been invisible and should not get a sweater for the rest of the playoffs.
- It’s a shame that Braden Holtby continues to play well enough to win and gets inconsistent help from his teammates. The player leadership needs to rally the guys around Holtby’s performance. Holtby’s perfect record following a loss will be tested yet again.
The Capitals have faced elimination against the New York Rangers in recent playoffs past. Each time they have found a way to win. #Capsin7