Take my word for it, the Rangers are lot faster than the Capitals.
It’s also generally agreed that Washington has a bigger, more physical team than the Blueshirts.
Or, do they?
As this Metropolitan Division Final resumes with the third game at Verizon Center Monday night, I’m getting the impression that the not-so-much-smaller New Yorkers can match the Capitals hit for hit.
And if that’s the case — which I insist that it is, — Alain Vigneault‘s sextet should make my prediction of Rangers-in-five stand up. Which means that they should win Monday night in Washington.
Certainly Caps coach Barry Trotz — a good fellow if ever there was one in the NHL coaching ranks — will disagree.
He expects his team to be a lot more focused and fighting-mad right off the opening face-off in Game 3; something that he did not see on Saturday when Chris Kreider put the Rangers up 1-0 before many patrons had reached their seats.
“That hurt us,” Trotz reflected, “but we straightened things out in the second period and I liked the way we came on in the third although we never managed to tie the count.”
This was not the fault of Alex Ovechkin who now has managed to sculpt two highlight reel goals in two games. When The Big 8 manages — as he did — to split the China Wall Defense of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh it’s one thing.
But then, as it happened to the amazement of the capacity crowd, when Alex, almost in flight, managed to fire a perfect bazooka past Henrik Lundqvist. Well!
“Ovechkin is going to get some good looks,” warned Alain Vigneault, “and we’re going to try to limit the looks he gets.”
New York’s anti-Ovie traps have been working to a certain extent. On one of Agile Alex’s forays, the Blueshirts Marc Staal flattened the Caps’ captain with a third period open ice hit that sent the crowd screaming with joy.
“The Rangers showed that they can hit hard,” Ovie told me post-game. “This is becoming a very tough series.”
He’s not kidding, especially when it comes to the perfectly even Battle of the Goaltenders.
Washington’s Braden Holtby is playing as if he should have been a Vezina Trophy candidate — but isn’t — while King Henrik Lundqvist has been a monarch between the pipes.
Another plus for A.V. is that his power play finally generated a goal on Saturday and that his Rangers are avoiding needless penalties. In Game Two the Capitals were penalized four times to the lone Rangers minor.
Mostly unobtrusive and without any fuss or fanfare New York continues to ice an effective fourth line. Expect Tanner Glass,Dominic Moore and James Sheppard to effectively counter their counterparts with lusty body checks.
Glass, in particular, has played the good cop without getting needless penalties. Meanwhile, Moore continues to be one of the NHL’s most effective penalty-killers.
POINTS TO OBSERVE TONIGHT:
- STYLE: The Rangers will play a more direct, straightforward attacking game, generated through neutral zone speed. It should work as it did in Game Two.
- HANDLING HOLTBY: Successful on Saturday, the Blueshirts will continue to get players in front of the Caps fine goalie. Rick Nashdid that on Dan Boyle‘s power play slapper and the goalie never saw the rubber.
- SHOOTING ON HOLTBY: Braden is tough to beat along the ice from in tight. He’s too good covering the bottom of the net. The best thing is to fire shots from ten feet or more out from the crease. Ergo: high shots through traffic.
- MORE CYCLING: Rangers speed also has been effective while cycling in the Washington zone. The Caps simply can’t keep up with the Blueshirts’ stops-and-starts-and-stops-and-starts again.
- STOP THE SURGE: Backed by an enthusiastic Verizon Center crowd, the home club will come out with a bang. The visitors must bang right back. Remember, the Caps endured a tough seven-game series with the Islanders. Already they are betraying signs of fatigue.
- OBSTACLES FOR OVIE: A.V. must come up with a designated “shadow” to follow Ovechkin around and thwart his thrusts; cleanly, of course. After Ovie there’s not much of a threat in the Washington arsenal.
Perhaps the Rangers coach has the most cogent comment of all as he prepares to capture Game Three.
“You’re not going to win on most nights if you don’t get twelve forwards, six defensemen and your goalie coming up big.”
I expect that the Rangers will have coach Vigneault smiling Monday night.