Four key members of the New York Rangers were missing from the team’s lineup in Thursday’s Game 1 opener. Anywhere from zero to four of those players could be back in the lineup for Game 2 this afternoon at Verizon Center.
Center Brian Boyle, left wing Ryane Clowe, right wing Derek Dorsett and defenseman Marc Staal all skated on Friday at New York’s practice, but the CIA would be hard-pressed to draw any intelligence out of the New York camp as to the identity of which – if any – of those players would be back in the lineup today.
“It makes them a different team,” says Caps forward Matt Hendricks. “They’re putting guys in the lineup that they want playing. And there are reasons for that. They’re talented. Everyone has a different niche or a different role on the team, and they want them in. Whatever happens in their lineup, we’re not worried about that. We’re worried about the way we’re going to play.”
The 6-foot-7, 244-pound Boyle is a big rig in the middle of the sheet. He averages 14:12 a night in ice time and his average of 1:53 per game in shorthanded ice time ranks third among all New York forwards.
Clowe and Dorsett were traded deadline acquisitions. Clowe is a noted power forward in the Mike Knuble mold, a guy who plays a fearless game down low and is a handful for opposing defenses and goaltenders to deal with around the paint. Dorsett is a feisty winger in the Brandon Prust mold, a player who seems to generate energy on his own side and stir the emotions of the opposition.
Staal is a top-pairing defenseman, a big-bodied workhorse who is effective all over the ice and is capable of playing 25 minutes a night when he’s healthy.
“They’re already a very good team,” says Caps defenseman Karl Alzner. “Whenever you get guys back that have been hurt it gives you a little bit of a boost. Boyle is great. He’s a big presence out there, [he’s] physical. Clowe we haven’t seen much of, but we do know that he can be a game-breaker himself. And Staal is one of my favorite defensemen in the league, so I don’t have to say too much about him.
The second part of the equation relating to any injured Rangers returning to action today concerns which players would come out of the lineup. Sophomore Chris Kreider is one good bet to draw a short straw in Boyle were to return today, but warm-ups and line rushes will tell the story.
Special teams were a deciding factor in Thursday’s Game 1, but Washington also feels like it held its own against one of the league’s top five-on-five teams in the Rangers.
“I thought we were pretty good,” says Alzner. “We didn’t turn the puck over too much, I don’t think. We did a pretty good job getting out of our zone. Sometimes we get in trouble hen we try to make too many plays at the offensive blueline or even at the defensive blueline getting out of the zone. I don’t think we did that too much. We just chipped it in and went after it. We recognized when we didn’t have an odd-man rush, so that was good for us and what we wanted to do. We’ve got to continue that.
The goal of the visiting team in a best-of-seven playoff series is simple: win one of the first two games on the road. Today represents New York’s last chance to achieve that. The Caps have to expect the Rangers to have a strong opening push reminiscent of what Washington put forth in the first 15 minutes of Game 1.
“I think we need to know it’s coming, first of all,” says Hendricks, of New York’s expected first-period push. “But I’m going to say the same things. It’s all about our system. It’s sticking to our system. If they come at us hard, we’re going to force turnovers and get odd-man opportunities. We need to respect them, though. We need to respect a lot of their aspects; their big forwards, scoring forwards. But I think if we play our way, we’re going to be successful.”