Capitals-Rangers Game 6 Preview with Katie Carrera and Tarik El-Bashir

May 09, 2012

After a heart-breaking overtime loss in Game 5 in New York, the Washington Capitals host the New York Rangers on Wednesday night facing elimination from the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Washington Post Capitals reporters Katie Carrera and Tarik El-Bashir took reader questions on what to expect in Game 6 and whether the Capitals can rebound from Monday night's disappointment. Read the transcript below.

Hi everyone -- Thanks for submitting your questions for ahead of Game 6 between the Caps and Rangers. Let's get this chat underway.

What's both of your predictions for tonight's game?

I love predictions. And since I called Joel Ward scoring the game winner vs. Boston a full eight hours before he did, I feel confident in what I'm about to say.

(Not really).

Caps bounce back tonight -- as they have all postseason -- and grind out a 2-1 win.

 

I, on the other hand, hate predictions. Better to roll with the punches.  

That said, since this series started I've had a gut feeling that it would go seven games. I think the Caps will find a way to win tonight, by one goal of course.

Which of the Caps' stars will shine brightest in their darkest hour tonight? I say Semin, he's due. No, overdue.

Any number of players could come up big tonight as the Caps try to stave off elimination, but I agree that Semin is overdue to make a mark on this series. 

He scored three goals (2 on the PP) in the first round but has been held to only one point (an assist) since Game 5 against the Bruins.  Semin hasn't been without scoring chances, which is a good sign, but the Capitals need him to finish. There's certainly no better opportunity than tonight for him to chip in with a little more offense.

What does the goaltending situation look like for the Caps heading into Game 6? Any good news on Neuvy, or is Holtby still our guy?

The Capitals net is Braden Holtby's, for Game 6, Game 7 if there should be one and for as far as Washington goes at this point. 

Michal Neuvirth has been healthy and backing up Holtby since mid-way through the first round but there's no reason to believe he will start a game at this point, barring injury of course. 

Do you guys think playing Ovechkin and Semin on the same line tonight is something we will see, I was thinking this would allow Ovie a little more room by the defense having to cover two highly skilled forwards. Also a line you could keep on the bench in defense mode. Any thoughts on line changes we may see during the game?

I don't think so. Hunter is big on having balanced lines with players who complement one another. A sniper, a playmaker and someone who'll go into the corner and retrieve the puck, for example.

 

So I don't expect to see Ovi and Semin skate on the same line.

 

If the Caps are trailing late, though, you may see Hunter start to stack his top line in an effort to get the equalizer.

Can Henrik Lundqvist catch with his glove, because while watching lately it seems he just uses it to block things away in a hopeful fashion?

Everyone in the NHL knows that Henrik's "weakness" is his glove hand and high shots. He's probably the best goalie in the game at sealing off the bottom of the net.

 

That said, Henrik has been on top of his game for most of this series. The way to beat Henrik is to screen him and hope for a rebound. Because if he can see it, he's going to stop it nine times out of 10.  

The top lines need to score if the Caps are going to win tonight and Saturday. Ovie has two goals this series, Backstrom one and Semin and Brouwer have put up goose eggs. I know the Rangers defenders have been all over Ovie but he, Backstrom, Semin and Brouwer have all missed multiple scoring chances. Say what you want about Lundqvist, but they have good chances to beat him and come up empty. Unless that changes tonight, the series is over.

The Caps talked a lot about the missed opportunities they had in the third period of Game 5: Backstrom clanked a shot off the post, a two-on-one for Ovechkin and Semin and a 3-on-1 with the top line neither of which amounted to much. 

Making the most of those chances will be key tonight. In that scenario, the Caps were able to create more in transition off the rush as New York tried to even the score. The Rangers have talked about having an aggressive approach tonight in Game 6, so perhaps it's something Washington can take better advantage of this time around.

Do the Caps players know the rangers org. is already seeling tickets for the 3rd round ? Might be good motivation.

I heard that, too. But I don't the Caps would use something like that as motivation. It's a business. If the Rangers win tonight, they could open Saturday.  

 

 

We are the team that's hanging around (barely) and upsetting better teams, just like MTL was in 2010. Question: Why does the team shrink back into a shell and immedieately try to sit on leads as soon as they are up by one? It seems to cost us more often than not. 

Since he arrived Dale Hunter has preached a patient, defense-first game. He stresses making the safe, smart play that is in the best interest of the Caps' defensive priorities rather than taking unnecessary risk to increase the score. That said, when given the opportunity to create more of a cushion the Caps haven't cashed in enough.

The style may be anxiety-inducing and it has come back to bite the Caps a few times, but it got them this far.  I don't see them deiviating from that plan at this point.

Just read on Capitals Insider that the Caps are more serious in morning skate than they've been throughout playoffs. What do you read into that, if anything? Are they tight, or just focused? What's the overall mood of the team--I sense they have more "want" and "will" than they've ever had in their history?

That observation from the morning skate was an interesting one. It's tough to gauge whether it is a good or bad thing at the Caps at this stage, but it was certainly a different vibe.

They've been focused throughout the playoffs, but the mood has always been light no matter  the specific circumstances or what they had to bounce back from. Today players were less chatty, there was hardly any goofing around in the dressing room as their normally has been, etc.  I don't look at it as a reflection on their want or will, obviously the players want to win, but the team is taking on a different tone as they head into a situation that requires they win two consecutive games to keep their season alive.

As bad as Joel Ward's penalty was at the end of Game 5, it was the inability to win defensive zone faceoffs that ultimately cost us the game. Has anyone asked Dale Hunter why Jeff Halpern still has not been able to get into the lineup, considering faceoffs are his strong point?

Sorry for missing the last few minutes. I was being interviewed on the Mike Wise Show.

 

Anyway, I agree with you about defensive zone faceoffs costing the Caps big time in Game 5. And Jeff is certainly as good as anyone on the team as far as faceoffs.

 

But I'm not sure there's enough room for both Beagle and Halpern -- and right now Beagle is playing well. He's good in the circle and has more speed than Halpern.

 

As for Dale's thoughts on the matter, he's been asked. But he danced around the question without really answering it.

Katie and Tarik, thank you for your excellent coverage of the Capitals. How big of a loss is it for the Caps if Jay Beagle is not 100% tonight or is out of the lineup altogether? Do the Caps have someone capable enough to fill his skates?

Thanks for reading. Jay Beagle would be a considerable loss for the Caps at this point, but Hunter said he expects the center to be ready to go for Game 6. 

If he were to be prevented from playing tonight, the Caps would need to find a way to make up 15 to 20 minutes of ice time as a shut-down center and his time on the PK. It could also hamstring the Caps in the faceoff circle as well seeing as Beagle takes the bulk of right-handed draws. I have a feeling that whatever kept Beagle out of the skate, though, won't be enough to keep him out of the game.

Do you think the Rangers rolling 3 lines in Game 3 for six straight periods has had or will have an effect on their stamina as we move to game 6 and (hopefully) game 7?

The Rangers' fourth line has certainly skated less than the Caps' fourth line, particularly last game. So I could see how that might affect the Rangers' top three lines.

 

But if you're asking whether that's going to make a big difference tonight, I tend to think not. Top players like Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik want more ice, not less. 

 

 

Do you think the Caps will deviate from their normal line rolling tonight or maybe double shift Ovechkin since the Rangers won't have last change? He should have fresh legs (lord knows we've all read enough about his ice time totals in both series).

I think Hunter will stick with the strategy that got the Caps this far. If the Caps fall behind, expect to see Ovechkin on the ice more. If the Caps are trying to protect a lead, expect to see him lean on more defensively responsible players. 

Ovechkin should be on the ice a bit more at home, though, given that Hunter can choose the matchups.

The thing I keep reading and hearing from the players after a loss is how "we're a team; we win together, lose together." This is not the mentality the Caps have had in the past, regardless of how talented they are. What is your sense about the camaraderie and feeling of togetherness among the players? Because I remember early in the season there was a sense of fracture being reported in the locker room.

The Caps were as close as any team I covered the first few years under Boudreau. That tight knit feeling, however, changed after the loss to Montreal and continued after last playoffs.

 

Slowly but surely, glue guys like Tomas Fleischmann, Matt Bradley and David Steckel were shown the door. And the group did start to pull apart a bit. All the postseason disappointment didn't help, either.

 

I have, though, noticed that in the past month or so, the Caps have started to look and sound more like a unit. For the most part, they've bought into what Hunter has been selling. 

 

Winning -- and advancing in the playoffs -- does that, too.

What does Ovi need to do to get a shot on the net tonight? How does a leading goal scorer not even muster a shot in game 5?

This morning, Ovechkin was asked whether the Rangers changed things up to limit him in Game 5. Here was his response: "No, I just don’t get the opportunity to take a shot or if I have opportunity they blocked it. For me, it’s most important thing I just need one chance to see the puck and see what happen out there and put it in the net."

He only had two attempted shots in Game 5, so I expect to see him trying to throw more pucks on Henrik Lundqvist. He's had a solid series overall, but for him to have a greater impact on the course of a contest than he did in Game 5 he needs to find ways around the Rangers' attempts to smother him.

Who are the officials tonight and how do they usually call games?

Dan O'Halloran and Wes McCauley are the referees. I'm going to withhold comment on talking about refs. Don't want to get fined by the NHL. : )

 

 

I don't know much about the rules, but can someone explain why Ward received a 4-minute penalty and the Rangers dude only received 2 mintues?

If the high-sticking play draws blood, the offending player receives a double-minor (4 minutes) penalty. New York's Carl Hagelin was bleeding after Joel Ward's stick caught him in the face.

And I hate to think it, but this could be the last time we see Semin and Green in a caps sweater tonight. They have certainly taken a lot of heat over the years, and in many cases unjusifiably so. I hope they come up big tonight. I hope to see them Saturday.

Might be the last time for Semin, who is a UFA. But I'm thinking Green will be back at least one more season. The Caps control his contract rights for another season.

He's been awesome as a checking line center, and I cringed when he hobbled off the ice after that shot block. Hats off to him for coming back into the game, but he certainly didn't look the same and lost that faceoff in the waning seconds of regulation. Faceoffs were a decisive issue that last game. Is there a chance, even if he says he's ready to go, that Dale inserts Halpern into the lineup for insurance in the dot? Maybe not even for Beags, but for Aucoin?

I was at the Rangers' skate, not the Caps, so I didn't see who got extra work today. But I think it would be risky to play someone who has not suited up all postseason -- and a bit longer.

Katie, Tarik, What time do you get to Verizon Center for home games? Any earlier for playoff games? No, I am not a stalker!

I've been here since 10:30 a.m. Will be leaving around 12 a.m.

 

PS, can you bring me something for lunch? I'm starving over here. : )

Why do you think Orlov has not played?

It looked to me like Orlov hit the rookie wall toward the end of the season. He had never played more than 45 games in a season; this year, he played in 60 with the Caps and 15 with the Bears.

 

That's a big jump. Combine that with the experience factor, and I can unsterstand why he hasn't played.

As I've been watching and listening to this series my impression is that it's very close. Neither team has dominated in any aspect or been particularly lacking in another. In well-played series like this, the random bounce of the puck can make a big difference. Do you see something I don't see, some area of vulnerability for either club or some strength that should be exploited more fully?

Both teams have their weaknesses that the other tries to exploit but your initial comment about this being a tight series is correct. Each adaptation one club makes is countered by the other. That's why things like a bouncing puck on a power play with 7.6 (the league changed the official time of Brad Richards' goal) seconds remaining can alter the course of a contest -- maybe even a series. 

The Caps' style has allowed them to be in every game of the playoffs so far but they haven't been able to truly dominate contests either. At this point, every player in the locker room has been asked what it's like to play games where every mistake could be a game-changer. To a man, they've all grown accustomed to it. Certainly a multiple goal lead would be nice, but it doesn't seem like there will be many of them at all. 

I have been a Caps fan for 30 years with my formative years spent witnessing the good (Hunter vs. Flyers) and bad (Lafontaine et al) in person. In February I was questioning the mental toughness and hockey IQ of this team with the belief they were in the bottom half of the league in both areas, but since mid-March this team seems to have grown in both areas exponentially. This gives me confidence heading into tonight and hopefully Saturday. Thoughts?

You're right. This is a mentally tougher team than it was earlier in the season. The proof is in the Caps' win/loss record. They haven't lost back-to-back games since March.

 

That's impressive.  

Even if the Caps are eliminated in round 2, would it be OK to nominate Braden Holtby for the Conn Smythe anyway? :) The kid deserves better than he's getting right now.

I don't know about the Conn Smythe.

 

But regardless of what happens tonight, Braden has answered one burning question. The Caps finally have their goalie of the future. (I know, I know, I've said that before. Read: Neuvy, Varly.)

 

But this time, I think it's true.

Why has Coach Hunter flipped flopped between Schultz and Erskine? It seems to be that you want to have a more physical presence in the playoffs and Erskine gives the Caps that edge. Jeff Schultz does not even attempt to hit anyone and instead just uses his reach to poke check the opponent. The Caps need to put the opponent flat on their butts and then they will get more odd man rushes.

While Erskine certainly gives the Caps a more physical presence, Schultz's solid positioning appeared to win out in the battle of which defenseman will get the roster spot in this series. 

Hunter is often vague when explaining why he favors one player in the lineup over another, but in this situation Schultz seems better suited to deal with the Rangers' systems,  including their aggressive forecheck, and he is more apt to block shots.

Do you know what the players generally do the day of a game? Like, what the schedule is? Do they all eat together at home games? Is it family time before going to Verizon? And, what time do they generally check-in at the Verizon Center? Simpler put, what's the basic routine of the players before a big game like this?

Usually, the Caps have a team meal available upstairs at KCI after the morning skate.

 

They leave KCI around noon (or so), go home to take it easy. Some players nap. Others just relax. It's tougher for the married guys, especially those with young kids.

 

But one thing about hockey players is this: they find a routine that works and they do not stray from it. I would be shocked if anyone is doing anything differently today.

 

Players generally get to VC between 4-5, depending on whether they need medical treatment/massage, etc.

 

After that it's special teams meetings, individual chats with assistant coaches, etc. Then it's game time.

 

You theorized about Orlov hitting the "rookie wall." OK. So why is Perreault not playing? He's not the biggest guy out there but he is speedy and will crash the net. Thanks.

The question is who do you take out? Johansson? Aucoin? I'm not sure Perreault gives you anything they don't. Johnasson's faster and Aucoin has a lot of experience (and also has become a Hunter favorite.) 

I think Brad Richards has been the key to the Rangers' success in this series against Caps thus far. And it seems we haven't figured out how to defend him yet. What do you think Caps need do to defend him well in the game tonight?

Richards has been outstanding and is tied for team lead in points this series with five. He's also won a lot of key faceoffs, including a couple late in Game 5.

 

The best way to defend a player like him is to get physical. I'm not sure the Caps have gone after him enough. Just one thought.

I always read about players' time on the ice, but I wonder how do they measure that? Does each player have someone watching them with a stopwatch?

Yes. The NHL has a team of officials/statisticians who watch the game from the pressbox. They track time on ice, faceoffs, blocked shots, hits, etc. They can also make adjustments after the fact by using video. 

 

Why is Schultz-Wideman better than Schultz-Erskine or Shultz-Orlov? I get the handedness/experience issues, but it seems like Wideman's failings outweight these things. Also, it seems as though Wideman's defensive pairings keep getting blamed for miskates from Wideman. He's lost his man and given up skating a few times and when Schultz tried to make up for it by chasing down Wideman's man, the press characterized it as Schultz getting beaten to the puck.

 Is there something I am not seeing?

After a rough start to Game 5, Wideman showed why he gets so many minutes. He drew a penalty, assisted on Carlson's goal and played well from the middle of the second period on.

 

I do, however, agree that his play has been disappointing on a whole in these playoffs.

Can you guys make a sign in support of Joel Ward and post it up along the glass? I know everyone felt the wash of disappointment on Monday night but I want him to know Caps Nation is supporting him and not hanging him out to dry!

There was a sign at KCI against the glass this morning that said: 'In Joel We Trust. Beat N.Y.'

That was a classy gesture by a few fans.

Marcus Johansson has not been himself latley. Could he injured?

I do not believe he is injured. He's just struggling, which is strange considering how good he was (two goals, six points in nine games) in the postseason last spring.

Has Dennis Wideman's play in the playoffs changed your thoughts on if he will be resigned for next season? Does it depend on who is the coach?

I don't think he's been the same player since the All-Star Game. That said, I bet he'll be able to get more money and term from someone other than the Caps.

It appears that the Flyers played the firewagon style this year against the Penguins, then couldn't adapt to the Devils' relentless forecheck. Do any of the Caps see themselves vs. Tampa Bay last spring in this? I think that that really reinforces the fact that Dale's style is the way to go in the playoffs.

The Flyers are done because Bryzgalov wasn't any good.

Tarik & Katie, I am asking this question on behalf of CapsChat. What is the vibe in the locker room? We have all read the articles over the past two days, but of course the players will say the right thing. We need you to tell us how it is. Lay it on us. -CapsChat

I went to the Rangers this morning but have been told by numerous people that the Caps seemed tighter than usual. The Rangers, on the other hand, were loose.

 

What does that mean? My experience is that it doesn't usually mean too much. The Rangers, I'm told, were as tight as could be before Game 6 vs. Ottawa. They won that game and the series.

IF the CAPS lose tonight (and for the record, I don't think they will), does GMGM blow up the team? I'd argue NO because anyone who has followed this team in recent years knows that the way they've played in the playoffs this year -- whether they win a game or not -- is such an improvement over previous years. They clearly are giving it everything they've got against very good teams. Even in the games they've lost, they have not choked. While trades always occur, I'd say it'd be a horrible idea to blow up the team after this playoff run. Your take?

I think questions about the team's future construction begin and end with Hunter's future. If he comes back, then GMGM will need to supply him with more of "his" players. If he does not, GMGM will have an even tougher offseason, needing a coach and needing to shape his roster.

 

One of this franchise's biggest issues, I think, is that they've never had a set-in-stone identity through the years. Detroit is the same every year. Philly is the same every year. The Caps? They seem to be different every year. Uptempo, defensive, hybrid, defensive. Pick a style and ride it.

 

Are those guys biased against the CAPS or am I just the only one hearing it?

I don't know if they are biased against the Caps. But I can tell you this: there are people around the league that feel the Caps got Ovi, got good, then got really cocky. Without, of course, having won much in the postseason.

 

Thanks for joining Katie and me for another chat. If the Caps manage to keep their season alive, hopefully we'll do this again.

In This Chat
Katie Carrera
Katie joined the Post full-time in the spring of 2008 after graduating from Ohio University. She began her Post career covering high school sports throughout the Washington metro area and became the beat writer for the Washington Capitals at the start of the 2010-11 NHL season.

Follow Katie on Twitter: @WPKatieCarrera
Tarik El-Bashir
Tarik joined The Post in 1999 after a three-year stint at The New York Times. A native of the Washington area, he has handled a number of beats, ranging from high school sports to the Capitals, and currently covers Georgetown men's basketball and auto racing while occasionally weighing in on hockey.

Follow Tarik on Twitter: @TarikElBashir
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