Game 5 Preview: Rangers at Capitals

#6 New York Rangers at #3 Washington Capitals
Series Tied 2-2
Location:  Verizon Center
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
Game 4, May 8 in New York, 3-4 L
Remaining Games:
Game 6, May 12 in New York, TBD
Game 7*, May 13 in Washington, TBD
*If necessary
Familiar Faces of Former Capitals:  D Steve Eminger (212 GP, 2002-08)

Blocked at work? Read on!

Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Washington Capitals squandered an opportunity to get the New York Rangers on the ropes with the series returning to Washington for Game 5 on Friday.  As a result, the Capitals and their fans everywhere will be getting death stares from wives and mothers as they are now guaranteed to play a Game 6 on Mothers' Day in New York.  After a day off between Games 3 and 4, the Capitals came out sluggish and sloppy, and the Rangers took an early lead on a two monumental gaffes by Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby, who sent an ill-advised pass up the middle of the ice that was intercepted, then panicked and took himself out of position a second time by sliding all the way through his goal crease.  Holtby will need to be more collected in Game 4, staying in his net and not overreacting, if the Capitals are going to keep the Rangers in check in Game 5.  The other factor that could tilt the series back in the Capitals' favor is the officiating.  The Rangers were beneficiaries of several marginal calls while the series was in New York and were only whistled for 5 penalties in two games.  If the Capitals can get 3-4 powerplays per game like they did in Game 1, they are much more likely to have an impact with their powerplay.  In order to draw penalties, though, the Capitals are going to have to hem the Rangers in their own zone with a strong forecheck and wear them out. 

The New York Rangers are slowly getting injured players back in this series and are turning the tide.  After losing the first two games, head coach John Tortorella thoroughly out-coached Adam Oates in the next two games, making adjustments to his special teams units, forecheck, and defensive positioning.  Even though the Capitals scored 3 goals in each game, Tortorella's adjustments were not matched by Oates in game 3, and by cancelling the pre-Game 4 practice, Oates didn't make necessary adjustments for the next game either, and got the same results. For as cerebral as Adam Oates is, he needs to be willing to break a few eggs to make his omelet, which may include shuffling up line combinations or making adjustments to his special teams or forechecking.  The Rangers are frustrating the Capitals now, hemming them in their own zone, goading them into bad penalties, blocking shots, and out-waiting them on plays, and forcing turnovers.  This is Tortorella hockey at its best, and the Capitals aren't adjusting. 

Injury Report: Capitals' C Brooks Laich (groin) and LW Martin Erat (forearm) are out. 
-For the Rangers, C Darroll Powe (concussion) and D Marc Staal (eye) are out.

Four Things To Watch For:

Trouble Shuffle:  Regardless of whether or not Oates wants to mix up his lines, he'll have to with the injury to Martin Erat.  Once Erat was injured at the end of the first period, Eric Fehr was moved up to the second line and Joel Ward was moved to the third line.  That moved paid immediate dividends, as the third line of Jason Chimera, Joel Ward, and Mathieu Perreault struck for 2 goals in 2 periods of work against the Rangers' third defense pairing (causing Tortorella to bench Steve Eminger).  The second line scored a goal thanks to hard work on the boards by Mike Green and Troy Brouwer.  The top line, however, remained mired in a funk with no even strength goals as a unit since Game 1.  Fourth-liners Jay Beagle and Matt Hendricks each played just two shifts in the final period, and both finished the game -1.  With Tom Wilson possibly coming into the lineup on the fourth line adding a jolt of energy, Beagle and Hendricks could get more ice time to keep four lines rolling, but the Capitals may still need to mix up their top two lines to get something going at even strength. 

Matchmaker:  If the Capitals' top line is going to have any success against the Rangers, it is going to be when the Rangers' top pairing of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh are off the ice, which isn't much time.  Those two defensemen each played 30 minutes in Game 4, and they play Ovechkin very tight, giving him no room to stickhandle and blocking most of his shot attempts.  Through four games, the Rangers' Girardi and McDonagh have more even strength points (1) than Alex Ovechkin (0), and as many powerplay goals (1), which should be a major cause for concern for the Capitals.  Now that the series has returned to Washington, the Capitals will get the last line change again, making it easier to get favorable matchups for their top lines against the opponents' defensemen, plus the Capitals' centers have the advantage on faceoffs by putting their sticks into the circle last.  The other tactic Oates could use is splitting up Nicklas Backstrom and Ovechkin, though he may save that for Game 6 if things don't go well again.  Like Ovechkin, Mike Ribeiro has been held off the scoresheet at even strength and has been less and less effective.  Nicklas Backstrom, on the other hand, scored a goal in Game when he was on a line with Troy Brouwer and Martin Erat up against the Rangers' second defense pair.  Even if they can't get their top player away from the matchup, It might be time to get the Capitals' second-best player free from them so he can do some damage. 

Le Petit Assassin:  Diminutive Capitals center Mathieu Perreault has been a major factor in this first-round playoff series against the New York Rangers and leads the team in assists (3) and points (4).  Paired with speedy Ranger-killer Jason Chimera (1 goal, 3 points), Perreault has been thriving in a matchup against the Rangers' third defense pairing.  Now that his line includes burly grinder Joel Ward (3 assists), they have been doing some major damage and are poised to do much more.  The Capitals "third" line members are the Capitals top-scoring forwards in this series, meaning the Capitals coaching staff would do well to get them on the ice more often.  Perreault is a swift playmaker with a penchant for scoring goals from the doorstep, something he did yet again on Wednesday.  With Chimera's size and speed up the wing, Ward's abilty to keep cycles alive, Perreault should get plenty of chances to do more damage and build his own reputation as a Ranger killer in these playoffs. 

Brouwer Power:  Alex Ovechkin may get all the headlines, but Troy Brouwer was quietly effective during the regular season, especially on the powerplay.  Brouwer scored 19 goals during the regular season, a total that wwas second on the Capitals but would have led 18 NHL teams.  Not only did Brouwer finish 16th in the NHL in goals, he also finished 14th in powerplay goals (7) and 18th in powerplay points (16).  Despite his success in the regular season, he has been little-used during this series from his position in front of the goal.  When your team has more men on the ice than the other team, it means someone should be open.  With the Rangers taking away shots from the point and cross-ice passes to Alex Ovechkin, that should leave Troy Brouwer open for his shots from the slot, which would then force the Rangers to adapt again, leaving something else open later on.  The Capitals must do a better job of using all of their powerplay weapons in their limited opportunities in this series or all of their regular season success won't be worth the banner it's printed on. 

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