Analysis: Capitals on the spot

Analysis: Capitals on the spot
April 21, 2011, 8:07 pm
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Thursday, April 21, 2011, 4:05 p.m.

By Ryan OHalloran


Before the Capitals began the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the New York Rangers last week, we identified five individuals andor aspects of their game that would be on the spot, especially considering the franchises recent playoff history.

With the Capitals up 3-1 in the series after a 4-3, double-overtime victory Wednesday, its time to take stock of the power play, Alexander Semin, Bruce Boudreau, Alex Ovechkin and Jason Arnott.

1. The power play
Why it was on the spot: The man advantage was the primary culprit for last years collapse against Montreal, going 1-for-33 in the seven-game defeat.

Through four games: The Capitals are 2-for-12 with the man advantage, but that doesnt count Marcus Johanssons second goal in Game 4 (a deflection of John Carlsons shot), which came right after the power play expired and the Rangers were still scrambling.

The Capitals are doing some good things on the power play the puck movement has been crisp, theyre not afraid to shoot and, most importantly, theyre getting back on defense when the Rangers try to create a short-handed chance (save for Alex Ovechkins penalty to prevent a breakaway on Wednesday). Adjustments will continue to be made until Mike Knuble comes back from his injury.

A key for the rest of the series is doing things to draw penalties like mucking it up in the corners and getting around a defenseman who has to interfere.

On the special teams front, the Capitals penalty kill deserves a medal through four games. The Rangers are enduring a 1-for-18 nightmare, and at various points, New Yorks players look like they dont even want to shoot.

2. Alexander Semin
Why he was on the spot: Semin entered the playoffs with a 14-game goal-less postseason drought.

Through four games: Semin started the series with a flash, scoring the Game 1 overtime winner.

But he didnt reappear until the third period of Game 4 (no points in games 2-3). Earlier in the game, as the Capitals fell behind 3-0, Semin was piling up the broken sticks but not the scoring chances. And, of course, he took an offensive-zone penalty. Bad Sasha was back.

Whatever was said to him or he took it upon himself, Semin was a machine in the third period and overtime. He started the comeback with for him, anyway a rare dirty goal, crashing the net to poke home a rebound.

In overtime, he worked the left half wall on the power play, firing shot after shot after shot, adopting the correct philosophy that sometimes jackhammering one-timers can get through traffic. He even went into the corner to win a few one-on-one battles.

For the series, Semin has two goals and one assist. But as one of the Capitals best players, he needs to show more consistency.

3. Bruce Boudreau
Why he was on the spot: Anytime an NHL coach loses three straight Game 7s at home (Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Montreal), he deserves a spot on the hot seat.

Through four games: Boudreau had a tough opening three games plus two periods to the series.

Between games 3 and 4, he became the story with his criticism (however accurate it may be) of Madison Square Garden and his perceived crowd noise difference between New York and Washington. That earned him a constant serenade from Rangers fans.

I might have made a mistake by saying what I said; lets leave it at that, Boudreau said after Game 4.

In the third periodovertime of Game 4, though, Boudreau made smart moves by grouping Jason ChimeraMarcus JohanssonEric Fehr, sticking Brooks Laich on the Nicklas BackstromAlex Ovechkin line and by rolling all four lines and all six defensemen in both overtime sessions. The Capitals were the fresher team.

4. Alex Ovechkin
Why he was on the spot: The Eastern Conference appeared wide open at the outset of the playoffs because of upstarts and injuries, and for all his statistics, Ovechkin had won only one playoff round.
Through four games: Ovechkin has two goals, two assists, 13 shots and 20 hits. Great numbers for a lot of players; for the Moscow Dynamo, not quite up to incredibly high standard he has set.

The theory here is Ovechkin is banged up to a point where hes showing his bursts only in select situations. Rangers rearguards Marc Staal and Dan Girardi have been solid getting stick-on-puck or body-on-body to negate Ovechkins scoring chances.

Even Boudreau said between games 3 and 4: You never win anything without your best players being your best players. They have to be the ones to get it done for the most part.

Ovechkin was a force in Game 1 (goal, six shots, six hits), and the Capitals need another one of those efforts to advance.

5. Jason Arnott
Why he was on the spot: The Capitals gave up a solid defensive center (David Steckel) and a second-round draft pick for Arnott at the deadline, hoping he could solve their quandary at No. 2 center.

Through four games: Arnott has one goal and two assists and is averaging in the 18-minute range.

Arnott assisted on Semins winner in Game 1 and scored the all-important second goal in the Game 2 victory. Where Arnott has been impressive is defensively he uses his long reach to simply thwart a Rangers pressure attempt.

Where Arnotts contributions cant be quantified are behind the scenes in the locker room.

Especially with Knuble on the shelf, Arnotts role will be important both on and off the ice.
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