There are only two teams that have a better goals for average than the Washington Capitals. The Boston Bruins and the Detroit Red Wings. The New York Rangers are sixth in the league for goals against average. A high powered offense against a staunch defense. It should make for quite the challenge for the Capitals.
Throw in a good goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist and a loose cannon in Sean Avery and the Caps will have their hands full.
The New York Rangers have been struggling in the offensive department, a problem they did not have at the beginning of the season. That trend did not end with the coaching change and John Tortorella taking the reigns. You do have to give the Rangers some credit down the stretch, they were able to win the games they needed to win against some pretty formidable foes.
Dangerous Rangers snipers in Markus Naslund, Nikolai Zherdev and Ryan Callahan will keep the Capitals hands full. However, the Rangers do not have a 30 goal scorer among them. There are only four Rangers with 2o goals or more and none of them over 25 goals. Not exactly a team that has a lot of confidence scoring going into the playoffs. Another factor that has hurt the Rangers was their size. They had to get Nik Antropov from the Toronto Maple Leafs to help them in that regard.
What they don't get in scoring, they make up in defense, kinda. The Rangers have several key defensemen that have made a deference this season. Wade Redden, Paul Mara and Marc Staal will test the Capital's front forwards. But the Rangers don't have a real punisher back on the blue line. While all of their defensemen are capable, none of them have had a stand out year.
While scoring could be a problem, the Capitals do give up goals. That is where the Rangers have a secret weapon in Lundqvist. Well, not all that secret, but they can draw just about all of their success on their goaltender's shoulders. They will have to if they wish to get by the Capitals. If the Caps give up 2 to 3 goals a game and can't solve Lundqvist, then the Rangers could have the upper hand.
Lundqvist has had a solid year with 38 wins, a .916 save percentage (just above the league average). He has posted 3 shutouts and has a 2.43 goals against average. He has started against the Capitals three times this season, only winning one game that went into a shoot out. Lundqvist also plays better when there is more at stake. His playoff numbers in '07 were an impressive .924 save percentage and a 2.07 goals against through ten games.
The Washington Capitals simply have to beat Lundqvist, something that their blue line knows more about. Mike Green scored a pair of goals to keep his historic run going, Tom Poti had the game winning goal back in November and Shaone Morrisonn scored an overtime goal against the Rangers as well. Why are the Caps' defensemen getting big time goals? They are the fourth man in.
The Rangers' defense is pretty straight forward, they can contain your forwards. But the third man in has been giving them fits. In a wide open game the Rangers can break down easily allowing a defenseman to slip in far side. They just can not pick up that trailing player. The Caps open aggressive system will test this and I wouldn't be surprised if their defensemen take advantage.
Then there is the unknown, as in Sean Avery. As we have seen in the Rangers' series against the New Jersey Devils, Avery has a way of being a pest. His job, more than likely is get under the skin of Alex Ovechkin. But you can't deny his abilities on the power play which we will talk about special teams tomorrow.