Thursday, February 12, 2009

Wow....It Makes You Think...

The link here to today's article by Larry Brooks of the New York Post made me think ... a lot. It's all a matter of perspective. When I put myself or at least try to put myself into the perspective of the Rangers and their fan base (gosh that is scary!), I guess last night's game was indeed a potential turning point for them. The Rangers have been going through a rough spot and they needed a win against a clear 2008-2009 playoff team to break that cycle and feel like they were back onto the road, they probably felt they started the season on. Truthfully, it needed to be against an Eastern Conference team so it could have been against the Bruins or the Devils as much as it could have been the Capitals. However, given the way the rivalries are viewed by the Rangers and their fan bases (where either the Devils or the Bruins are bigger rivals), it was probably better for them that it was the Capitals they defeated.

I had to really think about the article before I could shrug off my initial impression which now that I'm a total Caps fan was basically on the order of "you've got to be kidding me, Larry." But I sincerely do agree that from the Rangers and their fan base's perspective it probably was a very important game and they did control the game, sorry I can't go as far as say "dominate" given who was NOT on the ice for the Caps, the fact the Caps played ~1/2 the third period due to stupid penalties and the game still went to a shootout, oh and the Caps did manage to get 4 pucks past Lundqvist. Now looking at the regular season series between the Caps and Rangers which the Caps took 3-0-1 in a broader light, it's also clear that while the Caps captured 7 of 8 available points, they really didn't dominate the "Blueshirts" this season either. The first game on November 8th at Verizon Center was the only one where the margin of victory was more the 1 goal - the Caps took that game 3-1 on the back of a great game by goaltender Brent Johnson. The Caps then beat the Rangers twice by one goal; a 5-4 overtime game at MSG on December 23rd, and a 2-1 win on January 3rd.

The Rangers now have 65 points and are in fifth place in the Eastern Conference. Based on quotes in the Brooks article, they clearly believe they have found the secret to breaking the cycle they were in and allow themselves to play a looser style of hockey. If that's true and the confidence to do that started with last night's game, then it is the pivotal game for the Rangers that Mr. Brooks describes. Hopefully, that won't be something that comes back to haunt the Capitals in the early rounds of the playoffs.

As a Caps fan, I saw a much different game and result then described by Mr. Brooks and really couldn't have foreseen the quote of Marcus Nasland by Brooks: "It was huge for us, as close to being a must-win as it gets at this time of year." But upon reflection, can understand and concede from their perspective why they say things along these lines. I saw a game between the Capitals and a struggling conference foe, where the Caps did not have their best night and where two top six forwards, Alexander Semin and Viktor Kozlov, did not play. This enabled the Rangers to really focus and tie up the Backstrom - Ovechkin pairing, especially since the timing and chemistry of adding Michael Nylander on the right wing of these two hasn't yet fully gelled. In the end, the most depressing thing as a Caps fan is that the penalty killing by the Capitals was great ... because it had to be for ~10 minutes of the third period. The really, really dumb penalty award for the night goes to .... Shoane Morrisonn. In any case, while the Rangers deserved the win, but for the life of me I don't know how the play that is shown in the picture accompanying Brooks' article wasn't a penalty for roughing or interference. That said, I don't think Tomas Fleischmann would have scored or it would have made a difference. The Caps seemed determined to let the Rangers stay alive and in the game; they rarely led and never held a lead for more than 10 minutes. If they were going to win, they should have turned the game into a 3-1 game that they led during the first 8 minutes of the second period. Instead, Lundqvist held them back and Lauri Korpikowsi tied the game up at the 8:49 mark.

The big thing I thing about after games like this is how far the Capitals have come in the last two seasons. They truly can win any game against any team in the NHL right now. I'm not saying they are playing at the pace of Boston, San Jose or even Detroit right now. What I am saying is it's clear they have the talent to take on any team and win a best of seven series. That portends well for the post season, however first you have to get there and at least so far this season home ice advantage is important for the Capitals who are 0.830 at home and 0.500 away this season. The Caps are 3-1-1 so far in February and are 6-2-2 over their last ten games so it's easy to see how I as a Caps fan would look at the last game differently then a Ranger beat writer, player or fan. The Rangers are 1-2-1 so far in February and 4-5-1 in their last ten. Despite Kozlov and Semin not being in the game, the team that was more "in the groove" and who should have won last night, let themselves be outplayed, made dumb mistakes and played undisciplined hockey. Other than Mike Green and Tom Poti, the Caps blueline corps really gave the Rangers a lot of space and time. The only forward line that had a good game as a whole was the second line as both Eric Fehr and Tomas Fleischmann played the way the Caps hoped they could when they were drafted. The only guy who was good for the Caps in the faceoff circle was Sergei Federov and he was really good, maybe through some miracle we can get the 39 year old future hall of famer to stay around for 3 or 4 more years.

In the end it was indeed a pivotal game for the Rangers, but for the Capitals it was a game where they did not play to their potential and they let an opponent stay in a game until they made mistakes and lost to them. All that said, all is not lost as I said in my earlier post the mistakes and concerns were/are all addressable. As a Caps fan, I was just happy to see crappy ice somewhere else besides 7th and F Streets in DC.

Next up Tampa Bay on Saturday; don't get distracted and have too much fun with your Dads guys. A really great present for them from "y'all" during this two game trip through the Sunshine State would be four (4) points...


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