Here we go again. The New York Rangers and Washington Capitals return to Madison Square Garden tonight for Game 5 of their best-of-seven Eastern Conference Semifinal series. Just like in the quarterfinals, the Rangers find themselves tied at two games a piece after four games. Although the Rangers lost the one game advantage they had gained by winning the overtime marathon that was Game 3, they still have two home games left compared to Washington’s one.
Against Ottawa, New York got away with losing Game 5 and was able to come back to win the series, but no one wants to tempt fate again. Getting shots through the Capitals defense and onto goalie Braden Holtby will be key. Bergen Record reporter Andrew Gross did some research on the Rangers shots on goal numbers for the series. Outside of the triple overtime Game 3, New York has only averaged 20.1 shots on goal against Holtby.
“If we looked and we had 40 shots, maybe we’d get frustrated,” Rangers center Brad Richards said. “But we haven’t done that. I don’t think he’s had to stand on his head too often.”
The Capitals have done a great job protecting Holtby by blocking 105 of the Rangers’ 271 total shot attempts. One way to get more shots on goal might be to take advantage when there are fewer Caps on the ice. Joe Fortunato over at Blueshirt Banter discusses the frustrating New York powerplay.
The lack of a potent power play is going to bite the Rangers if they continue to squander those opportunities. The Washington Capitals took Game 4 thanks to a late power play goal. The Rangers would love to return the favor tonight.
I personally am a fan of Brad Richards running the point and keeping Derek Stepan at the halfboards; which allows Michael Del Zotto to roam between the point and the other halfboards. Throw in Marian Gaborik — who’s starting to get hot — down low and Ryan Callahan/Kreider (wishful thinking) in front of the net and you have a group that should be able to do some damage.
I agree with Fortunato that Richards should run the point. He’s a brilliant passer and can put the puck where it needs to be. He’s also able to move in and shoot the puck if the defense backs off him too much. It’s really up to the other players in picking the right spots to take shots in. Hopefully the shots will come sooner rather than later tonight. As we saw in Game 4, just passing the puck around can result in a random bounce over the boards, so the Rangers might as well let it rip.
In Chris Kreider news, some of the shine has come off of the rookie since a careless Game 4 turnover resulted in a goal for Washington’s Alex Ovechkin. However, head coach John Tortorella is confident that Kreider can learn from the error.
“For all our kids, there are going to be bumps in the road,” Tortorella said after the team’s optional practice. “His is more magnified because he’s right in the middle of the playoffs. I have full confidence he’s going to be able to handle that, learn from a couple of mistakes and be better for it. He’s got a good head on his shoulder.”
It seems like common sense not to clear the puck to the center of the ice like Kreider did on that play, but he did it anyway. Hopefully tonight he’ll play more conservatively in his own zone while continuing to make plays on offense.
That’s all the hockey analysis I can handle today. Hopefully the Rangers can get some pucks in the net tonight.