The Caps have done exactly what no team ever wants to do, they’re down 0-2 after having the first two games of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at home in DC. Tonight they will play game 3 on the road in NYC and their season hangs on the outcome. Less than 13% of teams that start a series 0-2 eventually go on to win the series, but the Capitals aren’t worried about their odds, they have BIGGER concerns.
It all starts and ends with goaltending in the NHL playoffs and less than an hour away from the puck being dropped only people inside the Caps locker room know who’s starting between the pipes tonight. That’s a bad sign, especially coming after reigning starter, Jose Theodore was benched in favor of a young goaltender with no playoff experience and little overall NHL playing time. The less experienced Simeon Varlamov played excellent on Saturday afternoon even though the Caps came up a goal short of winning. Varlamov allowed only one goal in the game and that was on a great two on one play made after an Alexander Ovechkin turnover. Comparing the two goaltenders based on their one game performances’ in the playoffs the choice has to be the young Varlamov. Theodore is a former Vezina Trophy winner and has a career 8-3-1 record at MSG, but after allowing three “softies” in game one, he may be forced to the bench as Varlamov’s backup again. It’s a tough call for head coach Bruce Boudreau, youth versus experience? Who to start in the season’s most important game of the year in the world’s most famous arena? This is a decision that no serious “contender” is normally faced with making.
While goaltending issues have become a major concern in Washington, that’s not their only problem. So far the Caps have been held to scoring only three goals in two games, this is the same team that was amongst the top three in goal scoring throughout the regular season. In the playoffs goals are harder to come by, players normally must truly “pay the price” to score, and typically come with cuts and bruises in the process. While the Caps have peppered the Rangers goal with plenty of shots, they have not created enough traffic in front of the net, and have not been in place for garbage goals. New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist has left some juicy rebounds for the Caps to knock home, but for some reason or another, the Capitals are nowhere near the puck to capitalize on those situations. If the Capitals are going to win tonight in New York, they must be more patient on offense and not be tempted to fire with the first open shot. Rather than winning the total shots statistic, the Caps must be smart and know when to cycle the puck in their offensive zone in order to setup a quality scoring opportunity. If the Caps can accomplish these objectives on offense, they will block the vision for Lundqvist, force penalties, and be in place to score those “garbage” goals.
Finally the Caps must play tougher and more energetic tonight. Throughout the regular season the Capitals typically started the game with big hits and lots of hustle, both were major reasons why they won the division title for the second straight season. So far they look intimidated by the Rangers and hesitant to make a big play. Maybe it’s because they know Donald Brashear has been injured, leaving them without any true physical presence to back them up or maybe it’s because they think they can score without being physical, whatever it is it needs to change tonight.
These are all big concerns for a team that was expected to go much further than a first round exit in the playoffs again this year. Tonight’s the night! A Capitals win gives them hope and guarantees at least one more home game in Washington, while a loss puts them on life support being down 0-3. The first 10 minutes of the game will go a long way in determining the fate of the Capitals 2008-2009 season…this is a do or die game.