Monday night's game in New York is as big as they get for the Capitals. After a terrific regular season, Washington's down 0-2, playing in hostile territory and frankly hasn't looked all that much like the Stanley Cup contender they were heralded as coming in.
And the Rangers' lone superstar, Henrik Lundqvist, has handily outplayed the Caps' handful of stars.
As is the case with any Caps game, win or lose, Alex Ovechkin has been a focal point. Through Games 1 and 2, he has two assists on the power play, but so far has yet to score a goal and doesn't have a single point at even strength. He looks, among other things, frustrated — and far from the player we saw score 121 goals the past two seasons.
Whatever Rangers coach John Tortorella's gameplan, in other words, it's working.
It's difficult to match lines as the road team — which New York was to start — but it's not impossible, and looking at who Ovechkin faced in the first two games gives you an idea of which Rangers players succeeded in a shutdown role. With Game 3 at MSG, Tortorella gets the matchups he wants more often than not, and it's going to be up to Ovie to outwit this group in order to extend his team's season.
Here is the average percentage of Ovechkin's 5-on-5 minutes that Rangers skaters played in the first two games of the series (with an assist to timeonice.com for the data) with defencemen in bold:
Because he didn't have last change (and some jitters from Staal-Girardi in Game 1), Tortorella settled on having either of his top two defence pairings out against Ovechkin, and they played roughly 92 per cent of his even-strength minutes. (Ovechkin skated in 14 minutes 5-on-5 in Game 1 and 17.5 minutes in Game 2, the difference being a result of fewer penalty calls in Saturday's game.)
The only lineup change the Rangers made was swaping out Aaron Voros for captain Chris Drury, who picked up some significant Ovie-killing minutes in Game 2 while centring the second line. For the most part, however, it was Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan doing the honours in both games, and while Ovechkin did have a lot of shots on goal — quite a few of which I'd argue weren't all that dangerous — they kept him off the scoresheet.
It's interesting, too, that Blair Betts, one of the supposed defensive stalwarts up front for New York, didn't pickup many anti-Ovie minutes, although Tortorella instead decided to use him sparingly at even strength and give him all the PK minutes he could handle.
Barring significantly more power plays for the Caps, Game 3 is likely to come down to Washington being able out score New York at even strength, and the early indications are that Ovechkin will draw the Redden-Rozsival pairing in most situations. How that matchup plays out will go a long way to determining (a) who wins the game and (b) just how much life the Caps can find while playing at MSG the next two games.
Ovechkin will likely win the Hart Trophy this June for a reason; Caps fans everywhere are hoping he shows why Monday night.