Stanley Cup Playoffs Round Two Preview: New York Rangers vs. Washington Capitals

Updated: April 30, 2015 at 8:30 am by Cam Lewis

It seems the Rangers and Capitals are always meeting up in the playoffs. The two teams have met four times in the past six seasons, with the Rangers winning the two most recent match ups in 2013 and 2012 in seven games. As we know, the Rangers have had much more success in the playoffs than the Caps in recent memory, and it seems pretty likely that trend is going to continue. 

The Rangers are well rested, after finishing off the Penguins in just five games last Friday, while the Capitals took all seven games to beat the Islanders. The Rangers come into this series as the favorites not only to take down the Capitals, but to come out of the Eastern Conference. 

Do the Caps stand a chance in this series?

Season Series 

For the most part, the Rangers owned the season series this year. The Rangers won three of the four meetings the two teams had, with all of their wins coming in regulation and by two goals. The Capitals did manage to win one game by a score of 5-2, but that was with Cam Talbot in net. In the two games that they faced Henrik Lundqvist, the Caps scored just four goals, and came out with a loss both times. 

Interestingly enough, Alex Ovechkin scored more goals this season against the Rangers than he did against any other team in the league. Of the five goals he scored against New York, though, four of them came on the power play. Rick Nash, on the other hand, was also pretty successful against the Capitals, as he scored three goals, with two of the three at even strength, in three games against Washington. 

This has the potential to be a pretty high scoring series. Although it features two good goalies, the Rangers and Capitals were fourth and seventh in goals for this season and the teams combined for six or more goals in all but one of their meetings this season. 

Special Teams

Special teams are likely to play a pretty big role in this series. The Capitals owned the best power play percentage in the league this season, operating at a 25.3 per cent efficiency rating and accounting for 60 of the team’s 242 goals scored. Obviously any team with Alex Ovechkin on it is going to rely heavily on a power play to be successful. In contrast, the Rangers had one of the better penalty kills in the league this season, killing 84.3 per cent of power play opportunities against. 

The Rangers don’t rely quite so much on their power play, as they managed to finish third in the league in goals scored despite having a power play in the bottom third of the league. The main story in this series is whether the Caps can break through New York’s strong penalty kill, because if they don’t, they’ll have to find a way to get it done at even strength. 

In their last series against the Islanders, the Capitals only managed to score two goals on the power play on 13 opportunities. You have to think that if the Rangers can shut down Washington’s power play, they’ll have a really good shot at winning the series. 

Even Strength

Although the Caps rely heavily on the power play to generate offence, these two teams had pretty similar peripherals at even strength this season. Both teams were in the top half of the league in Corsi and Fenwick percentages when adjusted for score during the regular season, but the Rangers had a slightly better even strength shooting percentage and save percentage. So I guess wouldn’t really say one team stood out over the other at even strength. 

In terms of pure results, though, New York is miles ahead of Washington. The Rangers had the most goals scored even strength, score adjusted goals for in the league this season, and they outscored their opponents by 62, while the Capitals only outscored their opponents by seven. The one thing the Rangers do really well is when they shoot, they get it on net. In fact, 74.1 per cent of the unblocked shots they attempted were on net, which was third best in the league. Combine that with a pretty good shooting percentage, and you have the most successful offensive team at even strength. On the other hand, Washington had the lowest shots on net percentage in the league this season. 

The Rangers may not dominate in possession, but they seem to manage to get results through taking high quality shots when they have the opportunity. 

Goaltending

Both Lundqvist and Holtby have been two of the better goalies in the playoffs through one round. But when looking at playoff series, you have to look at a player’s history, in which case, it’s pretty difficult to vote against The King. On top of that, if one team suffers an injury to their starter, or one of them completely loses it, the Rangers also have the superior backup in Cam Talbot, who looked strong when Lundqvist was lost to injury for a good chunk of the regular season. 

Regardless, I don’t think either team really has a glaring deficiency in net in this series, as goaltending is a strength of each team. 

Prediction

The Rangers seem to be the strong team here top to bottom. The Capitals, being a team who relies on the power play so much, will have a difficult time winning a playoff series against a team with a good penalty kill and a good goalie like the Rangers because they’ll simply see less power play opportunities than they would in a regular season game. I figure this series goes the same way it has the last two times these teams have met, Rangers in six.