The New York Rangers looked great during much of the first period of Game 1, but Alex Ovechkin’s one of those rare snipers who can change things with the flick of a wrist.
New York managed a 12-7 shot advantage in the opening frame, yet Ovechkin’s attempt was the only one to hit a net, giving the Washington Capitals an early 1-0 lead. Should Henrik Lundqvist have stopped this laser?
(Easier said than done, obviously.)
Even without Mats Zuccarello, the New York Rangers will still pose a speedy challenge for the Washington Capitals when the two teams kick off their second-round series tonight at MSG.
“I think [Carl] Hagelin and [Chris] Kreider jump out as probably their top speed guys,” Caps d-man Brooks Orpik said, per NHL.com. “I think from video we have watched it’s more the way they play than the individual speed. If you turn the puck over, the transition from their defense to the forwards with those stretch passes is good. It forces teams to play fast so that’ll be really important. We need to manage the puck well so they don’t hit us with that transition speed.”
It’s that quick-strike potential on offense that made the Rangers one of the top-scoring teams during the regular season, despite not boasting the best possession numbers.
As Orpik noted, not only can some of the Rangers really skate, their coach, Alain Vigneault, demands his players move the puck quickly.
“It’s about making good, clean passes to our forwards to help them get up the ice,” d-man Keith Yandle learned upon joining the Rangers from Arizona, per NHL.com.
But remember, these are Barry Trotz’s Capitals now. Washington plays with the kind of patience and structure that can stifle a good offense, as we saw Monday when John Tavares and the New York Islanders were held to just 11 shots.
“They really respect the way their coach wants them to play,” said Rangers center Derrick Brassard, per CBS New York. “They have a really good structure now. Their players are willing to pay the price. They’re competing real hard. That’s why they’re having a lot of success this year.”
Related: Here’s the second-round schedule
The latest Stanley Cup odds, per Bovada:
New York Rangers — 13/4
Chicago Blackhawks — 4/1
Anaheim Ducks — 9/2
Minnesota Wild — 11/2
Montreal Canadiens — 13/2
Tampa Bay Lightning — 15/2
Washington Capitals — 9/1
Calgary Flames — 12/1
Gotta be honest, nothing looks too tempting there. I picked the Lightning to win it all, and I guess 15/2 isn’t a terrible payout. But did anyone think Tampa Bay looked great against Detroit? I didn’t.
If I absolutely had to make a bet — taking into consideration both the team and potential winnings — I’d go with Washington at 9/1. Heading into the playoffs I wasn’t sure how Evgeny Kuznetsov would fare as a second-line center. Well, we all know what he did against the Isles. To be sure, the Rangers will be a really tough out, but I think they’ll miss the speed and play-making ability of Mats Zuccarello.
Related: PHT’s Round 2 picks, once again featuring The Coin
Citing “several sources,” the New York Post is reporting that Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello “will not be available” for the entire second-round series versus the Washington Capitals, and that his availability beyond the second round “is in doubt.”
The Rangers announced earlier in the week that Zuccarello, with a suspected concussion suffered in Game 5 versus the Penguins, was out indefinitely.
If the report is accurate, Zuccarello’s speed and play-making ability will be missed by the Rangers. The 27-year-old finished the regular season with 15 goals and 34 assists.
Veteran winger Martin St. Louis is expected to take Zuccarello’s spot on the Rangers’ first line, centered by Derick Brassard with Rick Nash on the left side.
After missing over a month with an arm injury, New York Rangers’ defenseman Kevin Klein is expected to make his return tonight.
According to Andrew Gross of The Record, Klein will play in Game 1 against the Washington Capitals.
Klein has been out of the lineup since March 11 after being hit in the arm by an Alex Ovechkin shot.
The 30-year-old was having a career year prior to being sidelined.
In 65 games this season Klein had nine goals and 17 assists while averaging 18:29 in time on ice.
Puck drop on Game 1 between the Capitals and Rangers is set for 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.