Mistake Free Hockey Will Be Key for New York Rangers, Washington Capitals

RobContributor IApril 15, 2009

NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 11:  Tomas Fleischmann #14  of the Washington Capitals has his shot deflected by Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers on February 11, 2009 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Hockey is a game of mistakes, and although every hockey fan loves the great offensive goal, a lot of things have to go right before the puck is in the back of the net.

Keeping with the cliche route, the best offense is a good defense; which is exactly what the high-flying Washington Capitals have going for them (and the main reason they are the No. 2 seed).

Meanwhile, the New York Rangers will be counting on their Vezina-caliber pictured-above goaltender and the sixth-best team defense in the league to lead them past Ovechkin and company.

But you have probobably by now already heard of all the strengths of each team, and some of the weaknesses at that. If the four regular season matchups showed us anything, it is that both teams will play at an up-tempo pace which is condusive to mistakes turning into goals anywhere on the ice.

So, although I think we will see some great offensive sparks (Not from any blue-colored shirts, most likely), I think the team that wins this series will be the team that makes the least mistakes.

Without further adieu, the five Weaknesses to Watch between the Capitals and the Rangers:

  • The New York Rangers 29th ranked Power Play vs. the Washington Capitals 17th ranked Penalty Kill.

As a Rangers fan, it has gotten to the point where I don't even expect a solid goal-scoring chance to come from a Power Play chance. When (more like if) the Rangers score on the Power Play, it truly is a gift.

It really shouldn't happen against a half-decent Penalty Kill unit. This is a Weakness to Watch because if the Blueshirts magically cash in on the Power Play a couple of times, the Capitals might find themselves in a hole.

  • Jose Theodore as a strength?

Jose Theodore can be good. He has shown that he can do it at points in his career. But, I have only seen Jose Theodore play at a championship-caliber level a handful of times, and I'm not sure that he can win the Caps the cup.

He can get by the Rangers though, who have a great knack of making average to above-average goalies looking like champions. New York as a team is sixth in the league in total shots, but dead last in the league in the percentage of shots that go in at 7.5 (the nearest is the Minnesota Wild at 8.1 percent—quite a gap).

  • Henrik Lundqvist as a weakness?

Everyone knows Lundqvist can and maybe will steal a game from the Capitals. And although he will basically keep New York in the series and in every game at one point or another, I am personally worried about Henrik being able to shoulder the complete load.

Hank had a career year in Wins, Minutes Played, and Saves; but at the same time slipped in overall Goals Against, Goals Against Average, and Shutouts. He has looked great as always many times over the season, but at the same time has looked shaky more times than I can remember in his career.

One thing I can tell you is this: if he can see the shot, he will make the save 99% of the time. Watch for bounces to go in against The King.

  • Easy Does It, Boys.

The four regular season games were full of fast-paced and physical hockey. From Alexander Semin playing the bongos on Marc Staal's head to Colton Orr giving Ovechkin shots for laying out some Rangers; this series should be very physical at times.

And sticking to the theme of the offensive and defensive battles, Penalties should be a big factor in this series. The last two games in the regular season yielded 25 penalties (14 for WAS, 11 for NYR), and you usually cannot win a hockey game from the penalty box.

  • Party Crashers

Everyone tries to dub their Wildcards or X-Factors. The easy (and possibly true, but I'm not convinced) pick for the Rangers is Sean Avery, while for the Capitals it is Defenseman Mike Green in my opinion.

While I expect Avery and Green to undoubtedly have an affect, I think what is key for both teams will be which depth players step up and make a difference. For the Rangers, players like Wade Redden, Fredrik Sjostrom, and Markus Naslund come to mind.

For the Capitals, I'm thinking Brian Pothier, Brooks Laich, and Tomas Fleischmann could make big differnences. Fleischmann especially, who has three points in three games against the Blueshirts with a +2 rating.

So do you want a prediction? Well lets put it this way. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Rangers go down here. They made me proud in fighting for a playoff spot and coming through in the clutch recently, but they have been an inconsistent hockey club all year and have been a disappointment overall.

At the same time, the Rangers can beat Washington, and I think the key to that will be making less mistakes than the Capitals.

The Rangers play such defensive and safe hockey sometimes that when they make a mistake it is blatantly clear what happened and who is to blame. The Rangers are the underdog alright; but sometimes that is exactly where you want to sit.

Rob Luker is a Rangers diehard who runs a small blog called Puck Money where he focuses on "The Business of Hockey"


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