Who's Hot and Who's Not for the Washington Capitals in the 2013 Playoffs
This, of course, is surprising to no one who has followed either team for the past five years or so.
As is often the case with these two teams, each critical mistake is magnified and momentum has seemingly changed not just from game to game, but several times within each game itself.
Game 1 was all about a flurry of goals by the Caps that resulted in a 3-1 win.
Game 2 was about the Caps power play succeeding where the Rangers could not.
Game 3 was a back and forth affair where the last goal won.
Game 4 was all about the Rangers taking advantage of some serious mental errors by the Caps to even the series at 2-2.
The scene now shifts back to the Verizon Center for Game 5. For the Caps, it is a chance to hold serve on home ice and go back to Madison Square Garden with a chance to close out the series.
With the series now having reached its tipping point, it is important to take note of which Caps' players have been hot so far and which ones are not quite getting the job done.
Here then is a quick look at who's hot and who's not for the Caps in the 2013 playoffs so far.
Hot: Mike Green
Mike Green ended the 2013 regular season on quite the roll.
With 10 goals and nine assists over the final 20 games of the regular season, Green re-established himself as one of the elite goal scoring defensemen in the entire NHL. His late season surge enabled Green to edge out the Montreal Canadiens' P.K. Subban as the top goal scorer among blue-liners this season.
Thus far, Green has been the best all around defender for the Caps in the series. He has two goals, including the huge overtime game-winner in the Caps 1-0 victory in Game 2. Green also has two assists and his four points is, not surprisingly, the most among the Caps' defenders.
It is no real surprise that Green has been productive on offense. His solid play on defense, however, has been somewhat overlooked. Green has a plus-three rating so he is not making many mistakes.
Green is also doing a pretty good job as far as getting physical and getting into the Rangers' shooting lanes. He is third among Caps' defenders in hits with eight and has six blocked shots.
What is also impressive is how much ice-time Green is logging per game. So far, he is averaging just over 25 minutes of ice-time per game, about a minute and a half more than John Carlson, who averages 23:37 per game.
Where Green has been most effective is on the power play. He commands the attention and respect of the Rangers' penalty killers and this creates scoring opportunities for the Caps.
The Rangers have been doing an excellent job at controlling the Caps' power play. Still, the respect demanded by Green also creates constant pressure upon the Rangers' PK. Pressure bursts pipes and, sooner or later, the pressure the Caps' power play continues to put on the Rangers should lead to more goals.
If the Caps are going to advance to the next round of the playoffs, the play of Green will be a big reason why.
Not: John Carlson
As good as Mike Green has been, John Carlson has not been measuring up in this series so far.
Carlson has been firing a ton of shots. In fact, he is tied for the lead among Caps' defenders with 12. Thus far, however, none of them have found the back of the net.
With this series being a bit more high-scoring than might have otherwise been expected, every goal counts even more. If the Caps are going to have any chance at prevailing in what has now turned into a best-of-three series then Carlson has to cash in on some of these chances.
What is also concerning is Carlson's minus-two rating, which is the lowest among the Caps' defenders. When you combine that with the fact that Carlson is leading Caps' defenders in shifts-per-game with 27.5, this creates a situation where the Caps' defender on the ice most is also the one most responsible for goals being scored against the Caps.
Not surprisingly, Carlson is leading the Caps in blocked shots with 17. In fact, he is third in the NHL as far as blocked shots in the playoffs. His block—which could also be called a save— of Carl Hagelin's shot after Braden Holtby's huge error in Game 4 is a great example of what an effective shot blocker Carlson is.
Still, for a guy who was second on the Caps during the regular season with a plus-11 rating, for Carlson to be a minus-two, in a series this tight, is probably a big reason this series will go at least six games.
It is not as though Carlson is playing poorly. But he is not playing particularly well either.
If the Caps hope to beat the Rangers and move on, Carlson has to play much better.
Hot: Mathieu Perreault
Heading into the series with the New York Rangers, much of the Caps success seemed as though it would hinge on whether the Caps were deep enough to generate the offense necessary to oust the Rangers.
One of the Caps' lines that had to come through in a big way was the third line consisting of Eric Fehr, Jason Chimera and Mathieu Perreault.
An argument can be made that the Caps' third line has been the best of the lot and as we head into a critical Game 5 situation, Perreault has been playing the best out of any of the third-liners.
Perreault is currently tied for the team lead in points in the playoffs with four. His goal in Game 4 got the Caps going and began a comeback that gave the Caps at least a puncher's chance of winning. Perreault was also right in the middle of Karl Alzner's goal that got the caps back within a single goal in the third period.
Good things have been happening when Perreault has been on the ice. His plus-three rating is tied for tops on the Caps so far in the playoffs.
Perreault has also been doing a good job in the face off circle as he has been winning 50 percent of his draws so far. By comparison, Mike Ribeiro is only winning 39.3 percent of his draws.
Beyond all that though, you have to be happy with the way in which Perreault has been playing. He has been skating fast and fluid and is seeing the ice very well. His vision has been very good and his play-making even better.
With the Caps now having called up Joey Crabb and the No. 16 overall pick in the 2012 NHL draft, Tom Wilson (via ESPN), it makes you wonder just how those two might fit in. If Wilson ends up on the third line with Perreault, that could be just the kind of pairing that could inject some life into the Caps and tilt the series back in their favor.
Not: the Top Line
When the playoffs began, the Caps' top line of Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson had been on fire.
How hot were they? Over the Caps' final 20 games—where the team simply took the Southeast division by force—the Caps No. 1 line accounted for 34 goals, 50 assists and a staggering 84 points.
All three guys could beat you. All three guys could make you pay. It could be argued that the line of Ovi, Backstrom and MoJo was the best line in all of hockey.
In Game 1 of this series, that momentum seemed to be carrying over. Ovi and MoJo had goals: Ovechkin's got the game tied; Johansson's put the Caps ahead to stay.
Since Game 1 though, the Caps top line has been, for the most part, shut down by the Rangers' defense.
Ovechkin, who won his third Rocket Richard trophy this season, has had just one assist and is a minus-two since Game 1. The Rangers have gotten increasingly physical with Ovi as the series has gone on—particularly in New York where John Tortorella got the defensive matchups he wanted—and try as he might, Ovi has just not been able to get on track.
Backstrom scored a big goal in Game 3 that put the Caps up 1-0. But other than that goal and an assist in Game 1, he has been MIA as well. Backstrom is a minus-one for the series so far.
Johansson has done absolutely zip since Game 1. Included in all of that was a missed opportunity to score in Game 2, a goal that probably would have mooted the need for an overtime session to decide matters.
MoJo is a minus-two for the series.
For those doing the math, the Caps' super-powered top line has combined for three goals, two assists, five points and a minus-four rating.
The top line is sure trying and no one can fault them for lack of effort. Ovi and MoJo are skating hard. Ovi is taking a beating most nights but just keeps bouncing back. MoJo seems very fast and elusive. Backstrom has been playing fairly well too.
All that effort, however, means nothing without results. If the Caps' top line had not completely vanished over the past three games, this series might be over by now.
Instead, the Caps big guns have three games left to show exactly what they are capable of.
Hot: Troy Brouwer
As anemic as the Caps' top line has been, their second line has been even more lifeless in this series.
The line of Troy Brouwer, Mike Ribeiro and Martin Erat had done next to nothing through the first three games.
Erat was brought to D.C. to help the Caps get to that next level in the playoffs. He has no goals, no assists and one potentially significant injury to his wrist or forearm (Washington Times).
Ribeiro, who was the Caps MVP this season when things were not looking so good, has just one assist for the series. His unwillingness to shoot the puck was a major problem at the end of Game 3 when the Rangers practically begged him to fire away. Ribeiro was not willing to oblige, the Caps lost and the series turned around.
Troy Brouwer, on the other hand, scored a big goal against the Rangers in Game 4 and played a solid overall game. If anyone is going to get the Caps' second line going, it is probably going to have to be Brouwer.
Brouwer had a really solid regular season as he was second on the Caps is goals with 19 on the season. Over an 82-game season, he would have been on pace for a career high 32 goals. Brouwer was also very effective on the power play with seven power-play goals.
He has not done too much in the playoffs so far, his goal in Game 4 being his only tally thus far. But, with the exception of Alexander Ovechkin, he is shooting the puck more than any of the Caps' other forwards.
Brouwer needs to keep that going. There have been too many moments where the Caps seemingly have a shooting lane open but are bypassing shots to try and set up something more pretty. This "cuteness" enables the Rangers' defenders to do what they do so very well, namely block shots and disrupt rhythm.
Brouwer's play in Game 4 showed a lot of promise. With the Caps' second line in a bit of turmoil right now, Brouwer will have to shoulder the load even more if the Caps hope to win this series.
Not: Braden Holtby
For Braden Holtby, the playoffs have been a microcosm of his 2013 season.
On some nights, he is fantastic. This was the case in Games 1 and 2 of this series when Holtby yielded only one goal despite facing 60 shots. In Game 2, Holtby collected his first career playoff shutout and out played the reigning Vezina trophy winner, Henrik Lundqvist.
Holtby had a phenomenal .986 save percentage through the first two games.
Then you have nights like Holtby had in Games 3 and 4 in Madison Square Garden. Holtby, looking nothing like the goalie who was so spectacular for the Caps a year ago, gave up eight goals against just 56 shots as the New York Rangers evened the series up.
Holtby's save percentage in Games 3 and 4 was a rather average .875.
Obviously, that is not nearly good enough for the Caps to beat a team like the Rangers.
Certainly, there were some mitigating circumstances. The Rangers played much better at MSG. In Game 3, the Caps' defense allowed too many Rangers easy access to the front of the net. Arron Asham is not a goal scoring threat. Still, you cannot leave a guy like that unchecked in front of the net or bad things will happen.
Nevertheless, Holtby did not look sharp in Game 3. Brian Boyle's game-tying goal was somewhat soft. Derick Brassard's goal was not soft, but the Holtby from the 2012 playoffs would have probably made that save.
In Game 4, Holtby kept the Caps in the game for a couple of periods with his stellar play. But he also made a massive blunder that led to the Rangers first goal, a goal that really changed the momentum and tempo of the game.
Dan Girardi's power-play goal in the first minute of Game 4 is another example of a save that, perhaps, Holtby should have made. Yes, Brassard made a great pass to set up the shot. Still, the Holtby from a year ago might have made that save.
The play of Holtby might be the biggest question mark as the series heads to the home stretch. Will we get the Holby from Games 1 and 2—who looked a lot like he did in the 2012 playoffs—or will we get the Holtby from Games 3 and 4—who looked a lot like the goaltender who struggled at times this season?
If it is the former, the Caps should be just fine.
If it is the latter, the Cap are going to be finished.