For the seventh time in nine games, Philipp Grubauer will be in net for the Washington Capitals, his sixth start during that span. That means Braden Holtby, the Caps’ savior for the first two months of the season, will be watching from the bench once again. Michal Neuvirth continues to remain in limbo.
“He’s only played a couple games but I feel comfortable with him right now,” head coach Adam Oates said of Grubauer after the morning skate.
Late in the second period of Sunday’s game, Washington Capitals center Mikhail Grabovski earned a penalty shot after getting hooked by Ryan McDonagh on a breakaway. Instead of getting fancy with New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, Grabo raised up his stick towards the Madison Square Garden roof and fired a slap shot into the top corner of the net.
Looking back over the last few years, I feel like I could articulate reasons for each year the Capitals got bounced from the playoffs. Last year’s Hunter Caps didn’t generate enough shots to win more than 50% of their games. Boudreau’s 2011 trap-Caps got beat by the Bolts’ suffocating two-man forecheck. The 2010 Caps were a solid team that ran into a white-hot goalie, i.e. they got Halak’d. And in ’09, an injured but explosive Caps crew couldn’t withstand the Cup-bound Penguins.
This year is a bit tougher. Certainly New York’s excellent goaltending deserves a bunch of credit for vanquishing the Capitals, but I’m hard-pressed to characterize this iteration of the team and how they fell short. I think that’s due to the abbreviated season, one bereft of a real training camp for rookie coach Adam Oates to implement his system. And that system itself is harder to peg down– I suppose it relies on a quick transition game (but not as wide-open as the 08-09 version) and using an overload defense (but nothing we’d describe as a trap, thank goodness).
So my goal is to find out — objectively– who these 2013 Caps were and how they got beat by the Rangers. (Plus: kitten GIFs.)
“WOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” (Photo credit: Patrick McDermott)
Jason Chimera hasn’t scored a lot of goals this season — so few, in fact, that’s it’s become A Thing. Chimera markers are special occasions to be celebrated– like a John Carlson backcheck. But Thursday, in game one of the 2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, we got another special occasion.
Just 46 seconds after Marcus Johansson took Steve Oleksy‘s divine saucer pass and put it behind Henrik Lundqvist in the second period, Chimmer added another goal to Washington’s tally. Taking a pass from Mathieu Perreault, the Bald Bullet swept the puck towards the net from the blueline. It seemed as if Chimera was trying to set up a play for Matty P, who by then had parked himself in front of net. Instead, Chimera’s puck trickled lazily past King Henrik.
“He’s had some struggles as far as the regular season goes,” Troy Brouwer said of Chimera. “To see him score early on, get confidence, play well [is good]. He loves helping the team out, he loves playing hockey, and he did a great job tonight.”
The golden years of the Capitals’ “Young Guns” — Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, Alex Semin — are over. Back in 2009, they were scoring almost constantly, having career years as the Caps blew out teams on the way to the Presidents’ Trophy.
Mike Green does his best Alex Ovechkin impersonation. (Photo credit: Nick Wass)
Three years later, Bruce Boudreau is gone, the goals are way down, and Washington barely made the playoffs. But Saturday afternoon against the New York Rangers in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals they made a reappearance.
“We’ve been here the longest,” Backstrom told reporters after the game. “We need to step up.”
Ovechkin — whose struggles the past few seasons have been well documented — started the scoring off with a knuckling slapper that Henrik Lundqvist could not handle. Then, after New York tied the game up, Backstrom unleashed a fantastic snipe from the slot. And with the contest knotted at two with 5:48 left in the third, Green fired a bullet from the point on the power play to send the series back to New York even at two games apiece.
After the grueling march of disappointment that was Game Three, we expected a rallying effort from the Caps. But we weren’t naive enough to expect a different kind of game. We know by now that the Capitals are capable of playing only one-goal games. What we didn’t know is that they could get goals out of Alex Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom, and Mike Green in the same game. It was like 2009 up in here.
Artem Anisimov tied it up early in the second by beating Braden Holtby, who was left helpless when Brooks Laich and Alex Ovechkin couldn’t block a weirdly bouncing pass. Nick Backstrom reasserted the lead by tenderizing Artem Anisimov and then putting Chimera’s pass in the net. Artem Anisimov won an icing race against Jeff Schultz and set up Marian Gaborik for another tying goal through Holtby’s five-hole.
Mike Green put the Caps up with a powerplay goal late in the third. It was the game-winner. Caps beat Rangers 3-2.
Luckily, for Caps fans, Alex Ovechkin brought his sniper stick today.
In his first shift after the Verizon Center crowd erupted in their “Ovi! Ovi!” chant at the 8-minute mark, Ovechkin capitalized on a brutal Chris Kreider turnover in the Rangers’ zone. As Kreider attempted a no-look pass to the center of the ice (a no-no in every professional hockey league except for the KHL) the puck went right to Ovechkin instead, who one-timed the puck past Henrik Lundqvist’s glove.
This year has been something of a breakout for Jason Chimera, with the speedy winger hitting a career-high 20 goals and becoming a key piece of the Capitals’ depth. You didn’t have to tell Henrik Lundqvist he could score — Chimera now has goals in three consecutive postseason games against the Rangers, going back to the last game of the Caps/Rangers series in 2011, and has become something of a personal nightmare for the All-Star goalie.
You can’t expect the goals to come easy against a netminder of that caliber though, and Chimera’s tally in the Caps’ 3-2 win on Monday was anything but. Following a crazypants individual effort from Matt Hendricks and an equally crazy almost-save from Lundqvist, Chimera finished off the team’s efforts to tap the goal in. We take a closer look below.
Brooks Laich skated the puck into the Rangers’ zone with ten seconds left to go. He had a decision to make. Leading a 3-on-2 break in the closing seconds, he could have either pulled up and shot the puck from the perimeter, hoping for Jason Chimera to convert the rebound, or he could send a lateral pass over to the Capitals leading scorer, Alex Ovechkin, and see what magic he could make.
Instead, Laich opted for option C: a high-risk, high-reward hailmary saucer pass to Jason Chimera that would have to travel over two defenders’ sticks and somehow find the tape of his stick.