Game 4 Preview: Capitals at Rangers

#3 Washington Capitals at #6 New York Rangers
Capitals Lead Series 2-1
Location: Madison Square Garden
7:30 PM
TV:  Local: CSN, National: NBCSN, Canada: TSN
Radio: 1500AM & 820AM
Previous Games:
Game 1, May 2 in Washington: 3-1 W
Game 2, May 4 in Washington, 1-0 W (OT)
Game 3, May 6 in New York, 3-4 L
Remaining Games:
Game 5, May 10 in Washington, 7:30 PM
Game 6*, May 12 in New York, TBD
Game 7*, May 13 in Washington, TBD
*If necessary

Nash injured? Read on!

Photo by Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images

The Washington Capitals took the New York Rangers a little too lightly on Monday night and it cost them the game.  Despite scoing an early goal, the team's lack of focus led to a spate of sloppy penalties in the first half of the game, which disrupted their momentum and allowed the Rangers to take the lead.  the challenge for Game 4 will be playing with the focus they showed in the first two games and regaining their form on special teams.  The Capitals' inability to score on the powerplay was certainly a factor in their Game 3 loss, especially the game-ending 6-on-4 advantage, but they had already scored enough goals to win a normal hockey game.  The Capitals were able to beat Ranger goalie Henrik Lundqvist with two deflections and one cycle forecheck that led to a Mike Green laser.  It was only because the Capitals had already allowed two powerplay goals that their own inability to score on the man advantage was so important.  The penalty kill can be easily corrected by staying out of the penalty box, but the Capitals need to have more focus throughout the game to stay with their defensive assignments and maintain a strong forecheck. 

The New York Rangers used Madison Square Garden's raucous energy to their advantage on Monday night. Head Coach John Tortorella made several adjustments to his team that paid off in a big way, too.  First, putting defenseman John Moore on the powerplay point allowed other Rangers to return to more natural positions and got the Rangers on the board with the extra man.  Secondly, the Rangers' defensemen didn't retreat as quickly and were able to keep more plays alive, something that led directly to both Rangers' even-strength goals. Third, his penalty kill stopped overcommitting and patiently out-waited the Capitals' skill forwards, playing on the Caps' tendency to look for perfect passing plays.  These changes, even with goalie Henrik Lundqvist allowing 3 goals, were enough for the Rangers to squeeze out a win on home ice to keep themselves in the series.  It remains to be seen how the Capitals will adjust to these changes, but it is fair to say that chess-master John Tortorella and his Rangers won't be going away easily. 

Then again, if Rangers winger Rick Nash was injured in Game 3, the adjustments may not matter (Nash took a "maintenance day" after a rough collision with Joel Ward in Game 3).  Even though he only has one assist in 3 games, Nash has been a nightmare for defensemen to contain, using his big frame and reach to his advantage, creating scoring chances and drawing penalties, not to mention taking 15 shots.  If Nash isn't all there physically, he becomes just another blue sweater on the ice and makes the Rangers a far less dangerous team to play against going forward, as he is most dangerous when he is skating hard and playing in the high-traffic areas. 

Injury Report: Capitals' C Brooks Laich (hernia surgery) is out. 
-For the Rangers, C Darroll Powe (concussion) is out.  RW Ryane Clowe (leg, head) is questionable, but may return at some point during the first round.  LW Rick Nash (undisclosed) is probable. 

Three Things To Watch For:

Fehr Shake:  Capitals winger Eric Fehr has been a demon in this series, providing a matchup nightmare for the Rangers defense and stout defense of his own when needed, but he has seen his ice time decline in each game.  In game 1, Fehr skated 17:09, laying out 3 hits, blocking 2 shots, and firing three shots on goal.  He also got into a scuffle with Ranger Captain Ryan Callahan and, for the coup de grâce, drew a third-period slashing penalty on a breakaway after he shrugged off Ranger defenseman Michael del Zotto like a rag-doll.  Fehr saw his ice decline to 14:29 and only took 1 shot in game 2 but still dished out 6 hits, 2 takeaways, had 1 monstrously important blocked shot on the penalty kill.  Game 3 was a disaster for the Caps in many ways, but Fehr played just 11:55, with 3:13 of that on the penalty kill, where he was especially valuable in keeping the puck in the Rangers' zone.  When Fehr is on the ice at even strength, it also means his linemates, Ranger-killer Jason Chimera and Caps' top assist man, Mathieu Perreault, are on the ice, as well.  This line plays against the Rangers' third defense pairing of del Zotto and Moore and has managed to break through for 2 goals in three games so far.  Fehr is playing like the 2003 first-round pick the Capitals thought they were getting, the power forward with the knack for big goals.  Fehr just needs his chance to score them. 

Staal Tactics:  While he may not have 100% of his vision back yet, Rangers' defenseman and alternate captain Marc Staal returned to the active lineup.  This proved to be a huge boost to their team, and not just than just from a morale standpoint.  Staal is the third longest-tenured Ranger on the team after only Henrik Lundqvist and Dan Girardi, the only other players to have played in the 2009 playoff series against the Caps.  His return immediately makes the Rangers a harder team to play against and a real threat to make this a long series, not to mention brings a lot of experience.  While Staal only skated 17:17 on the night in his first game back since March, he and defense partner Anton Stralman were able to match up against the Capitals' second line and keep them relatively quiet.  That line hadn't scored for the Caps at even strength in the first two games, but they created a plethora of chances which created momentum and hemmed the Rangers in their own zone.  Sure, Staal was on the ice for a goal, but as essentially a top-pairing defenseman playing on the second pairing, he was able to keep Mike Ribeiro silent for the game.  If that trend continues, the Capitals could be in real trouble from a scoring standpoint.

Net Presence:  The Rangers won Monday night's hockey game because they won the territorial advantage around both goal creases.  All four Ranger goals involved the goal scorer being all alone and untouched in front of the Capitals' goal, and none of them were breakaways.  At the other end of the rink, the Capitals once again scored exactly zero goals off rebounds and repeatedly let themselves get boxed out of the blue paint by the Rangers' defensemen.  The Caps' inability to get to those rebounds cost them several great scoring chances which could have altered the course of the game.  If the Capitals are going to have sustained success in these playoffs, they will have to win those battles in front of both nets to tilt the game in their favor.  If the Capitals are able to get to the crease for those second-chance opportunities and keep the Rangers tied up in front of their own goal, they will likely win the game.

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