Do The Washington Capitals Stand A Chance Against The New York Rangers?

It could be a closer series than most folks think
T.J. Oshie, Washington Capitals
T.J. Oshie, Washington Capitals / Patrick Smith/GettyImages

I don't know if against all odds is the right, or best term to use here. But here we are. Maybe against all logic, the Washington Capitals are getting ready for a playoff series. It's a Capitals team that set a record, a record that is not the most flattering. It's a team that really is not that great. But they made the playoffs regardless.

This is when you will have people from all around the globe picking who will win series. I'm guessing this one, the Washington Capitals squaring off against the New York Rangers, will not be close in terms of who people will be picking to win the series. It will likely be heavily favoring the Rangers.

Why not? They are the best team in the NHL, winning 55 of their games, and securing 114 points in the standings. That point total giving them the Presidents' Trophy this year. An award I still think deserves a lot more credit than it gets. Another argument for another time.

The Capitals, barely squeaked in. The Capitals got 91 points while winning 40 of their games, meaning they lost 42. The Caps are clearly underdogs here.

For Washington, it could be worse. In the final couple of weeks of the regular season I was keeping an eye on who the Capitals could face in the first round. There were teams to avoid. Without going into too much detail right now I did not think it was a good thing if the Caps matched up against the Carolina Hurricanes. When you watched those two teams play, it was pretty clear on who the better team was. The numbers back that up as well.

Then there were teams that were better, in the standings anyways, and those teams felt like they might have been a better matchup for the Capitals. One of those teams? The New York Rangers.

I will not say the Capitals are going to beat the Rangers. I'll just come out and say it now, I have the Rangers in 6. I could see them pushing it to 7.

But the matchup for the Capitals vs the blueshirts is not as bad as it could be. I'll point out one stat as an example. Expected goals for%. Versus a team like Carolina, Washington had a xGF% of 41.39. Versus the Rangers, it was 50.98%.

This season the Caps and Rangers threw down 4 times. They split the series. Two wins for the Rangers, two wins for the Capitals. All of the results came in regulation.

Almost all of the Capitals numbers vs the Rangers look good. Their shot attempts percentage was 51.39%. The Rangers were the only team in the metro division that Washington had over 50% of the shot attempts against. They also had over 53% of the scoring chances vs New York. They had exactly 50% of the chances against the Penguins, that being the only other metro team they had more than 50% of the chances against. The Caps had 31 high danger attempts against the Rangers and 34 against. That being the only number below 50% at 47.69%

These numbers are obviously not the be all end all. There are plenty of other numbers and more widely used numbers that show how good the Rangers are. Like goals.

To compare, the Capitals gave up 252 goals this season. That was smack in the middle of the league this year, 16th. A problem the Caps might face is their goal scoring. They scored 216 goals this season. That ranks 28th.

The Rangers on the other hand were top ten in both goals scored and goals allowed. Actually, they ranked 7th in both categories. They scored 278 goals and allowed 226.

You're also going to have to worry about the Rangers special teams, more than the Rangers will have to worry about the Capitals special teams. Again, kind of oddly, the Rangers finished third in both power play and penalty kill percentage. Their power play clicks at 26.4% and their kill is 84.5% effective. The Caps on the other hand are 20.6% on the power play, 18th, and their PK is 79% even, being 19th in the league.

Something to keep and eye on when it comes to special teams. The Capitals went 0-10 on the man advantage vs the Rangers this season. The Rangers, just 1-12.

But this is why I think this is a better matchup for the Capitals than other teams they could have played.

The Rangers are not a team that come at you in waves. At least not according to the numbers. We saw the Capitals play a couple of teams later in the season that do that and the numbers show us that. The Hurricanes and the Florida Panthers.

Here are the Hurricanes numbers. They had a 59.55% shots attempts percentage. They had 57.99% of the scoring chances this year. Those leading to a 56.06% high danger attempts and a 56.93% expected goals percentage.

The Panthers while not as good, were still very good. Their numbers were 55.70% shot attempts, 55.29% scoring chances, 53.78% in high danger and a 54.31% expected goals.

The Rangers, on paper, are not that kind of team. They are not the kind of team that will shove the puck down your throat and make you enjoy it. Their numbers are much closer to the 50% mark. Meaning, kind of average.

The Rangers numbers are, 50.11% shot attempts, 50.40% scoring chances, they allowed more high danger chances than they got, allowing 743 and getting 727, or 49.46%, and they had an expected goals of 49.04%.

We are not saying that the Rangers are an average team. They're not. They won the Presidents' Trophy. Look no further than the top of their scoring chart. Artemi Panarin had 49 goals and 120 points leading their team. The Caps leader in goals had 31 goals. That being Ovechkin. Their leader in points was Strome with 67. 53 points behind Panarin.

New York also has Chris Kreider who is a pain to deal with. They have Adam Fox on the back end. A former Norris winner. Mika Zibanejad always seems to eat up the Capitals. And, oh yeah, they still have Igor Shesterkin in net, who is always among the top netminders in the league.

Speaking of guys who play well vs the Capitals, Zibanejad did not score vs the Caps this season. Chris Kreider, also had zero goals vs Washington this year. Panarin had 2 with a helper, as did Adam Fox and K'Andre Miller.

The Capitals on the other hand. Their leading scorer vs New York was Anthony Mantha who had 3 goals. T.J. Oshie had 2, Aube-Kubel, Wilson, Milano and Dowd were your other scorers. Sandin, Strome, Carlson and Kuznetsov all had 2 assists.

It's going to be a tough series. And if we point out the Rangers numbers, we should probably point out Washington's numbers. If the Rangers numbers are average, which they are, they Capitals numbers are bad.

The Caps shot attempts percentage was 46.65%, they had 48.32% of the scoring chances, 48.31% of the high danger chances, and they had an expected goals for of 47.37%.

I'm not saying the Rangers are average. I'm not saying the Capitals are good. The Caps got in the playoffs because the east was so bad this season. I'm not picking the Capitals to win this series.

There will be a large percent of the hockey population that pick the Rangers to win this series. They will do it quick. New York will sweep or do a gentlemen's sweep and win in 5 and they'll move on to the more "interesting" series. I think this will be a more interesting series than people think it will be.

I think the Capitals got lucky to be in the playoffs this year, and I think they got fortunate in who their first round opponent will be. It's a team that I think they matchup better with compared to other teams. The Capitals have one of the very best goalies of this season in Charlie Lindgren. And yes, we need to talk about Charlie Lindgren here.

This season Lindgren played the Rangers three times. He won two games, lost the other. The Rangers fired 89 shots his way, he stopped 85 of them. He had a goals against average of 1.35 and a save percentage of .955%.

We've seen it happen countless times, I would bet on it happening again this year. A goalie will prove to be a difference in a series. Will it be this one?

It's kind of odd how people look at things, myself included. We all seem to think a 4 or 5 games series is a quick series. Yet a 6 game series is a pretty good hard fought series. The difference between 5 and 6 is just one.

But I think this will be a longer series. I think the Capitals play well enough to win one game, maybe even two. Lindgren steals another. Rangers in six.

This is going to be a bigger battle than most people think in my opinion. If the Capitals can keep this close and make this a longer series, advantage to the underdogs. Buckle up!