These two teams played an incredible seven game series a couple seasons ago, but they’re vastly different teams now. New York rolls with Marian Gaborik and a blossoming Brandon Dubinsky while the Capitals are more defensively responsible now. The Caps still have Alexander Ovechkin and Alex Semin to do the scoring and now Mike Green is back in the lineup on the blue line.
Whether it’s Semyon Varlamov or Michal Neuvirth that leads them in goal against all-world star Henrik Lundqvist is still up for grabs though. Here’s how we’re looking at things in this high-profile series which you’ll get to see Game 3 of which on Sunday on NBC at 3 p.m. ET.
There are some flashing neon lights pointing in the way of a Rangers upset, but my gut says that the Capitals are just too talented for New York. As great as Henrik Lundqvist is, can he overcome New York’s disadvantages in terms of quality depth, high-end talent and special teams? The Blueshirts keep proving me wrong, but I must obey my gut or it will grumble.
Capitals in 6. Jason Arnott has been getting a lot of press regarding his veteran presence, yet Mike Knuble brings a more important veteran presence: his presence in front of the net.
Any team that has Henrik Lundqvist is going to have a puncher’s chance. Losing Ryan Callahan is a huge loss for a team that wants to play the type of game the Rangers want to play. Honestly, it might be too much to overcome. For the Capitals, there’s no question that their year starts now. Through the system change and all of the ups-and-downs that came with it, we’ll find out if it was all worth it. As usual, despite a stellar regular season, Washington will solely be judged on their playoff performance. The Rangers won’t be the biggest test, but it’ll be the first test. It shouldn’t be a huge problem for them either. Capitals in 5.
The Capitals learned a lot of lessons from their first round ousting last year against Montreal. They’ve changed up their style and don’t play with reckless abandon anymore. They play the way a playoff team should now and having an ace up your sleeve offensively like Alex Ovechkin is huge. Unless Henrik Lundqvist goes ape and turns into the Swedish Superman, I don’t like how the Rangers shape up against them. It won’t be easy for Washington and the Rangers will give them fits, but I like the Capitals in 6.
What say you faithful PHT readers? Think we’re all in the bag for Ovechkin and coach Bruce Boudreau and his saucy stylings? Vote in our poll and let us know who you think wins.
‘I’ve got to be more aware’ on the ice, says Ekblad after recent injury
As per multiple reports, Aaron Ekblad practiced with his Florida Panthers teammates Thursday.
Good news. That marks another step in the progress he’s made from a neck injury — initially reported to be a concussion — suffered on a hit from Leo Komarov that ultimately ended the defenseman’s experience for Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey.
Despite supplemental discipline from the league on that specific incident involving Hendricks, Ekblad, a valuable part of a young Panthers team that has increased expectations surrounding it, put the onus on himself to be more aware on the ice.
“When I think about it in the Edmonton game last year, there were a couple of big hits on their guys. I should have expected to someone was going to come after me,” Ekblad told NHL.com.
“Obviously you don’t think that. You think there’s a little bit more respect among players out there. I turned, I saw him. I didn’t think he was going to drive my head into the glass. The Komarov hit there, he got me on the shoulder, not much on the head or anything like that. It was more of the whiplash effect. Again, I’ve got to be more aware. You train your body, you train your brain to do that kind of thing. I do a lot of eye exercises and stuff like that. We’re working on that right now and just trying to be a better hockey player that way.”
The Panthers have a preseason game with the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight. Ekblad is not in the lineup.
The Dallas Stars have added another defenseman to their group of prospects.
On Thursday, the club signed 18-year-old Czech blue liner Ondrej Vala to a three-year entry-level contract. Vala is currently playing for the Kamloops Blazers in the Western Hockey League. He had four goals and 21 points in 72 games last season — his first with the Blazers.
Having represented the Czech Republic at U-17 and U-18 international events and played for the Stars prospects team at the Traverse City Tournament, Vala is also listed at six-foot-four-inches tall and 209 pounds.
He certainly brings size on the blue line, which is a quality the Stars appear to value in him.
“Ondrej has shown a combination of size and physicality along with the ability to play a defensively responsible game at the junior hockey level,” said Stars GM Jim Nill in a statement.
Johansen, the younger brother of NHL center Ryan Johansen, appeared in Monday’s exhibition game for the Capitals, apparently leaving a positive impression on the coaching staff.
Still, Johansen doesn’t turn 19 years old until the middle of November. He also has some growing left to do at six-foot-one-inch tall and just 174 pounds, so sending him back to junior is the logical step.
“So, it’s fun to watch, how he goes about the game. Certainly, I think it’s helped growing up in the family that he has and being around some of the players he’s practiced with. I think he has some special tools, in terms of his ability to slow down the play and see some things that other players don’t. He’s looking like an outstanding draft pick for us and a real great prospect moving forward.”
Shaw suspended three preseason games for boarding Connor Hobbs
The Habs have five more exhibition games remaining before the regular season begins Oct. 13.
Shaw was given a major penalty and a game misconduct on the play, as he slammed Hobbs “through the numbers, with speed” from behind into the end glass, as per Thursday’s video from the NHL outlining the suspension.
From the video: “It is important to note that Hobbs is never eligible to be checked by Shaw on this play. From the moment Shaw arrives at the faceoff dot, he sees nothing but Hobbs’ numbers. Hobbs makes no sudden movement just prior to contact that turns this hit from a legal hit into an illegal one.
“The onus is on Shaw to ensure that he can deliver this hit in a legal fashion, minimize the force, or avoid this hit completely. Instead, he hits forcefully through Hobbs from behind, driving him dangerously into the glass.”