The New York Rangers and Washington Capitals are meeting in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fourth time in the last five years. Should we expect much of the same or have the changes on the rosters set the stage for something new?
Seeing is Believing?
If there is one series that has unknowns, this is the series. Which Ovechkin will we see? The guy who's fallen from grace over recent years or the Rocket Richard winning sniper who propelled them to a division crown? Will we get the rejuvenated Holtby who went on a tear in the final two months after getting a contract extension? Will Lundqvist raise his game to a new level and finally be the playoff goalie we've all expected of him? How will Nash do in his second playoff appearance of his career? There are lots of big questions surrounding the key players
For all the talk about the lack of scoring on this Rangers team, it sure didn't show up in the stats. They finished the season with a 1009 PDO rating. Part of that is due to Lundqvist's stellar .926 save percentage, but with names like Richards, Nash, Stepan, and Callahan in the lineup, goals shouldn't be a huge concern. Hagelin and Brassard are good depth guys who have helped the Rangers accumulate a 53.88 possession score. The issue now is whether the injuries to Clowe and Boyle will be too much. Can they survive a long series without these guys?
On the flip side, the Caps aren't a team that hold onto the puck very long. They have a dismal 47.72 possession rating. Usually teams with a number under 50% miss the playoffs. Yet, with strong goaltending from Holtby and a respectable team shooting percentage, they've managed to squeeze in with a lot of confidence. The argument against them is they play so many games against weaker opposition. Their division is the worst in hockey and some of their numbers might be inflated.
Over recent years the Rangers have been lauded as the best shot-blocking team in the NHL. But what happens when you take Marc Staal out of the lineup? They still have twin towers in Girardi and McDonagh, and Del Zotto and Stralman are good puck movers, but this is not the same NY team of old.
On the flip side, the Capitals aren't defensive juggernauts either. Alzer and Erskine are the defensive specialists on the blueline and Carlson is one of the most underrated two-way guys in the league, but the straw that stirs this drink is Green. He finally seems all the way back from his injuries/confidence issues. With him on his "A" game Washington have a great chance to make it to the second round. He adds a whole new dimension to the power-play and he's even been trusted more in defensive situations this year.
This is a tight series to call. With so many question marks it's anyone's guess who will come out on top. Usually I would side with the team with elite goaltending, but I still need to see Lundqvist prove he can replicate his regular season success in the playoffs. Holtby should be able to hold his own and he had a great showing last year vs Boston. Right now I trust the Caps big guns more than the Rangers and it doesn't hurt to have home ice advantage.
Prediction: Washington ML for the series (-105)