Thursday night the #3 seed in the East, the Washington Capitals, take on the #6 seed New York Rangers. To get a Caps point of view on this series, we spoke with Kevin Klein (@sickunbelievabl) from JapersRink.com.
1. It doesn’t seem like if would be the Stanley Cup Playoffs unless the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers met in the playoffs. It’s the 4th time in 5 years. Does that help or hurt the Caps chances of getting out of the 1st round?
It doesn’t help or hurt the Caps any more than it helps or hurts the Rangers. Familiarity is a two way street, and it breeds contempt, not advantage. While the Capitals have set the revolving doors behind their bench a-spinnin’ since they met New York in the 2009 playoffs, a first round exit for John Tortarella’s Rangers could have the potential to do the same in the Big Apple.
2. The Caps started off the season 2-8-1, was there ever a chance first year coach Adam Oates was going to get fired?
No. The intangibles coming into the lockout-shortened were too great for a first-year coach with a negligible training camp to shoulder the blame for his team’s early struggles. Add in the fact that Adam Oates was making some pretty drastic changes— moving his superstar from one wing to the other, installing a brand new power play, and splitting his shut down defensive pairing— the foundering was understandable and, though hindsight is plenty clear, it has obviously paid dividends.
3. Alex Ovechkin turned it on the last 25 games or so and looked like the “Ovie” of a few years ago. What changed for him to become a scoring machine again?
For one, he’s learned the nuances of playing on the right wing, while maintaining the knowledge and skill set he developed on the other side of the ice. While he was growing into his new position, Adam Oates was getting him open looks on the powerplay, where Alex was back to manning the halfboards and burying his patented slapper from the circle. Most important in the revitalization of Ovechkin’s play, however, has been his willingness to give the puck up to a teammate in the neutral zone, allowing this teammate to enter the offensive zone, allowing Alex to either sneak behind him to pick up a drop pass, or crash the net, however he reads the play.
4. Alex Semin departed for the Hurricanes in the off season, who picked up the scoring in his departure?
Troy Brouwer, who’s 19 goals in 47 games fall only two short of the mark put up by Semin in 77 games last year. Mike Ribeiro centers Troy Brouwer on the second line, and feeds him the puck in the slot from below the goal line on the powerplay. Brouwer put more pucks in the net than Semin this year, and Ribeiro picked up more points than the Russian sniper. Between the two of them, Semin’s production has been more than compensated for.
5. Braden Holtby really burst into the scene last year during the playoffs, is he ready to once again be the man between the pipes?
I don’t think there’s any question. Whether he matches the numbers he put up last year is anybody’s guess, though Holtby has proven in his young career that he thrives when the workload gets heavy, much like the man who will be staring him down from the crease on the other end of the ice.
6. The Caps finished the regular season as the hottest team in the league, how were they able to turn this season around?
The obvious answers are continued success on the power play, and Ovechkin and Backstrom’s resurgence as one of the deadliest playmaker-goalscorer tandems in the world. The Capitals success was likely due in large part to a growing comfort level with Adam Oates’s system. After a rocky start, Braden Holtby re-secured his spot as— as you rightly put it in the question above— the man between the pipes, and Mike Green returned from injury to score more goals than other defenseman in the league, despite playing in 7 fewer games than PK Subban, who came up second in the same category.
7. Best power play in the league, nearly the worst penalty kill in the league, which one will be key for them?
The power play will need to fire away if the Capitals want to have postseason success. They boasted the league’s best man-advantage back in 2009-2010, when they entered the playoffs against Jaroslav Halak and the 8th seeded Montreal Canadians. They connected on only one of thirty-three chances during that seven game series, resulting in a spectacularly disappointing elimination. A repeat of that unfortunate phenomenon would be catastrophic. The Rangers have struggled on the powerplay all year, but have played well at five-aside. The value of special teams play for Washington in this series cannot be overstated.
8. First round prediction?
Capitals in 6. The Capitals have spent the season improving steadily. The Rangers have spent most of it woefully underperforming, keeping themselves float with small stretches of inspired play, such as the one they ended the season on. The Rangers are loaded with talent, but apart from King Henrik, they’ve failed to live up to it more often than not, whereas on the other bench Adam Oates finally has his best players playing like the league’s elite after a couple of frustrating seasons. I like the trends for the Capitals going into this one.