As I blogged last night, the Caps have a golden opportunity to wrap up this series with the Rangers in just five games and get some much needed rest. There is no doubt the Capitals need to play hard, smart, and aggressive but let’s dig a little deeper into those three high level game thoughts and focus on some of the tactical keys to victory.
1. Move Your Feet! When I talk about playing hard, the first thing Washington needs to do is be constantly moving their feet and using their superior skating speed on New York. The Caps are not the fastest team in the NHL but they have an advantage in that department over the Rangers. New York’s momentum in this series has come when the Capitals have not been aggressive in the neutral zone and on the forecheck, and that has allowed the Rangers to make up for their speed deficiencies, at times. That was one of the big problems in period two in game four on Wednesday. Constantly moving their feet can also help to get the zebras to start calling more penalties on the Rangers while also preventing the Caps from getting whistled for infractions. Good, hard, and short shifts are important in wearing a tiring Rangers team down.
2. Play Well Away From The Puck. The other big problem on those three Rangers goals in the 2nd period on Wednesday was Washington’s horrible play away from the puck. The Caps got caught looking at the puck carrier too often and as a result, the Rangers found the open space and scored some easy goals. In the third period it was Washington who played outstanding away from the puck. In their own zone they looked for open Rangers and covered them. When the Caps stop playing away from the puck you will often see New York players wide open in the slot or at the point. On offense, getting to the open space will help to create scoring opportunities.
3. Shoot The Puck Often! Former Capital and CSN analyst, Alan May (@MayHockeyCSN), tweeted tonight the following:
I don’t care who you are, what team you play for, how long you’ve played, what position you are, shoot from everywhere at any speed
This is great advice to the Capitals skaters. Washington has had several two on one rushes in this series but too often they have not gotten a shot on goal in that situation because they are trying to force a pass. There is nothing wrong with shooting the puck, in fact, sometimes a shot and a rebound is the best pass you can make. Alexander Ovechkin has been guilty of overpassing on a couple of those two on ones and with his great shot he should be blasting away.
4. Go To The Net! Alexander Semin’s goal in game four that started the Miracle on 34th Street comeback was a combination of shooting the biscuit and then making a basketball like play in following up that shot by crashing the crease. It was a smart and hard working goal by the most highly skilled player on the ice. In fact, all four Washington goals came from going to the net as Marcus Johansson scored both of his from the paint as did Jason Chimera on the game winner. Good things happen when you go to the net!
5. Get Pucks Deep! The “simple” game is what will win for Washington on Saturday. By dumping the puck deep and then hitting a Rangers blue line that relies heavily on Dan Girardi and Marc Staal, the Caps can force a weary New York defense into turnovers. We’ve seen several of those by the Blueshirts in this series to include Semin’s game four tally as well as #28’s game one winner off of an intercepted clear from Staal by Jason Arnott. John Tortorella relies heavily on #5 and #18 so if the Capitals can continue to physically punish those guys in their own zone then they have a huge advantage.
6. Keep Blocking Shots. Naturally the Caps need to continue to sacrifice their bodies and block shots to help out rookie goalie Michal Neuvirth, who has been very good so far in this series. Coach Bruce Boudreau’s squad has done an outstanding job of picking the right spots to go down and take one for the team while not screening their net minder. This area has been a big reason why they’ve been able to shut down the Rangers power play so far in this series.
If the Caps focus on doing these things, which is what I am calling “the process” necessary to be successful, and not think about results, then they have a very good chance of closing the Rangers out on Saturday afternoon.