Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Something Special About The Caps

Special teams has been a roller coaster ride for the Capitals ever since the lock out. If the power play was improving it seemed the penalty kill suffered and vice versa. But this season things have worked out for the Capitals.

The Caps' power play has been lethal this season, especially at home. The Caps are ranked second in the league trailing only the Detroit Red Wings. At the Verizon Center, their power play is the best in the league.

In contrast, the New York Rangers struggle in the power play department, falling to the bottom of the barrel ranked 29th with a dismal 13.9% effectiveness. To put some perspective on it, the Rangers may score a power play goal in every ten chances, while the Capitals can score a power play goal in every four chances.

But what the Rangers do have for them is the best penalty kill in the league. Part staunch defense, but mostly Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers are an effective 87.8% on the PK, and also have 9 shorthanded goals. While that is short of the 16 shorties the Flyers have scored this year, the Caps have shown they do give up short handed goals.

The Caps power play, a high point from last season and the season before thanks to a defensive minded coach in Glen Hanlon, has been middle of the road this year. They are ranked 17th in the league overall, a better 12th ranking at home. The Caps miss Boyd Gordon who is recovering from a broken digit (but did practice with the team yesterday with out the blue injury jersey).

The New York Rangers need to play a smart game and try to stay out of the box. But when they do take a penalty, they have been able to kill off the extra man attack. For the Caps, it might be smart to also keep from the sin bin. But if you have to take an infraction, the Rangers maybe the team to do it against since they have been struggling offensively, especially on the power play.

That just leaves goaltending, and for the Capitals it is not exactly where they would like it to be. Of late, the Caps' goaltender Jose Theodore, has been playing okay. But his numbers against the Rangers have been dismal. In his only start, he had a 3.36 goals against average and .875 save percentage. Nothing to write home about.

However, it was in New York that Theodore turned his season around. Just a few days before Christmas, Theo was chased from the net as the Rangers built up a 3-0 lead in the first period. Brent Johnson, who was ailing from a bad hip and a touch of the cold filled in for the rest of the first and Theo was sent back in at the start of the second. The Caps made a comeback, matching the Rangers' 3 goals in the first with 3 goals in the third. They forced over time and Shaone Morrisonn was the hero with an overtime goal.

Since that game, JT60 has made a recommitment to his craft and soon earned the number one spot between the pipes. He has upped his save percentage above .900 and kept down his goals against. But Theo's inconsistency has always been an issue for the Capitals and the playoffs are a bad place to start feeling shaky.

So who should win? It seems experts are picking against the Capitals, mainly pointing at their porous defense and shaky goaltending. But you won't get my picks until tomorrow as I will put together my fearless predictions for the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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