NEW YORK | The Washington Capitals learned last year, and, really, three times in the past four, how the New York Rangers like to play. They’re well-versed in the shot-blocking at all that, but that’s not all John Tortorella’s team has to offer.
The Caps were reminded of that in Sunday night’s 2-1 loss at Madison Square Garden.
“There’s good energy in the building, we know they feed off it,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. “It’s a fun place to play, and they’re going to play well at home because of it. For us, we’ve got to try and counteract it, try and stop them from creating so much zone time, relieve the pressure from ourselves so they just don’t roll shift over shift in our zone and they can get the crowd and themselves into it.”
But that’s what the Rangers did for so much of the game. They carried the play and forced goaltender Braden Holtby to be the best player on the ice.
“We never stopped grinding, and that’s when you know sooner or later the puck is going to go in,” said left wing Carl Hagelin, who scored New York’s first goal. “You have 60 minutes to get that goal, and the way we played, we were in their zone most of the time and they didn’t create much.”
After getting a lead on defenseman John Carlson’s rocket past Henrik Lundqvist, there wasn’t much of a sustained, even-strength push from the Caps. They had their chances, but a lot of the game was spent trying to stunt the Rangers’ attack.
“It’s tough,” defenseman Tom Poti said. “They’re a good forechecking team. They forecheck hard. They cycle the puck well.”
Tortorella said his team “stayed with our game,” but the Rangers were also plenty aggressive.
“That’s a tough team to play against: They don’t give you that many chances [and] they also have a good goaltender,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “We knew that’s how it was going to be and it wasn’t going to come easy.”
The Caps made it harder on themselves by taking five minor penalties. New York scored on one of its power plays, but killing off the first four took a toll.
“You use a lot of minutes, a lot of guys using a lot of energy killing penalties, Nick [Backstrom] and Troy, guys that we need at the other end, especially,” coach Adam Oates said. “It makes it so difficult because the team has no rhythm, you’ve got some guys that don’t kill penalties [who] don’t get to play. As I said, you’re using guys in other situations, you want to save that energy if possible.”
Perhaps sapped by those heavy minutes, the Caps had a hard time containing the Rangers at even strength when they pressed.
“You can’t ice the puck because you’re just going to have a draw back in your end,” forward Eric Fehr said. “You just do what you can to get it out and try to force them to make a turnover and get it back in their end. That’s the best you can do.”
Stemming the tide of a forecheck is something the Caps need to do better Thursday and Saturday against the New Jersey Devils, who mastered the art of tilting the ice during their run to last year’s Stanley Cup Final.
Perhaps improving in that area is something they can draw from the loss to the Rangers.
“We’ve just got to be more conscious of what we need to be doing to have a better all-around game,” Carlson said.