Well, that was … frustrating.
Not sure what’s more embarrassing–that the Capitals couldn’t score on a two-man advantage or several power plays, or that the Rangers couldn’t manage to score with no one in net for the Caps during the final two minutes of the game. Since the Rangers actually won 3-1, we’ll give them the last laugh this time.
But what made the game so frustrating was that the Capitals broke the cardinal rule of playoff games, and particularly playing against one of the best goalies in the world: establishing screens and a strong net presence. And it’s a rule they knew going in.
Brooks Laich said it earlier this week–if Henrik Lundqvist sees it, he stops it. Ovi said it after the game: “He’s a pretty good goalie, he’s gonna see a shot, I think he’s gonna save it.” The Caps did not get nearly the kind of net presence, or screens, they’re going to need to beat the Rangers. Some of this credit goes to the Rangers’ defense–like the Capitals have done recently, the Rangers don’t allow many quality shots on goal. But some of it comes down to the Caps’ decisions to pass rather than get the shot on goal and generate second and third chances with rebounds and traffic. The Capitals love to pass, almost to a fault. And that, against a disciplined team like New York, causes turnovers.
The good news for the Capitals is that their mistakes were decipherable. This was no Jaroslav Halak unsolvable puzzle (not that Lundqvist wasn’t stellar). The bad news was the mistakes were habits the Capitals fall into all too often.
Holtby, meanwhile, wasn’t at his sharpest and didn’t face many shots on goal. But the second and third goals he gave up were fairly point-blank shots, with virtually no help from his defense. However, when you have Lundqvist at the other end of the ice , those are saves that must be made. The second Rangers’ goal developed primarily because of a bad change by the Caps’ defense–a frustrating rookie mistake by non-rookies in the second round of the NHL playoffs. Another setback was Alexander Semin’s two penalties. He’s grown significantly this year in cutting down on those and getting better with his defensive game, but his first penalty was particularly untimely, as it negated a Capitals’ power play.
Listening to the postgame interviews via the Caps’ website, the guys were frank about saying they needed to play better. And they’ve got some time for redemption. This is Game 1. And, as both teams in this series could tell you, sometimes winning is more about how you rebound than how you start.