A Rangers fans’ guide to the Caps

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Loose Pucks,Sports,Brian McNally

 

Oh, hey Rangers fans – good to see you again. I didn’t take that quick Twitter unfollow personally last May after New York ended the Caps’ season with a Game 7 win at MSG. Just business. I understand. Anyway, I assume you’d like a quick refresher course on Washington as the two teams prepare to meet for the fourth time in five postseason. Here you go:

Forwards

1st line

LW Marcus Johansson

Looked tentative early in the season and no one could figure it out. Johansson had 46 points as a 21-year-old last year. What happened? It turns out colliding with Alex Ovechkin hurts. That happened during a training-camp practice in January and Johansson tried to play through his concussion symptoms. He was predictably awful. But after a month out of the lineup, the speedy winger has rebounded with five goals and 16 assists in 25 games.

C – Nicklas Backstrom

Shook off a slow start – two goals and 13 assists through the first 19 games – to find his mojo when reunited on the top line with Alex Ovechkin on March 14. Backstrom ranked second in the NHL with 40 assists, but he had 13 in the first seven games of April alone. He controls the league’s top-ranked power play from the half wall on the right side.

RW – Alex Ovechkin

Don’t do a double take. Ovechkin is on the right side now after coach Adam Oates convinced him it would lessen the predictability in his game. After a slow start and across-the-board carping about his play, Ovechkin caught fire and played himself into the Hart Trophy conversation. Led the NHL with 32 goals and was tied for third in points (56). Half of those goals came on the power play.

 

2nd line

LW – Martin Erat

Acquired from Nashville on April 3 for top prospect Filip Forsberg. Made the Caps better in the short term, though the deal gave some fans a panic attack. Erat missed three games after wrenching his knee April 6 at Florida and has just a goal and two assists in nine games. But he has shown flashes. Plays bigger than his size (6-foot, 196 pounds) and is strong on the boards with good skill mixed in.

C- Mike Ribeiro

Among the NHL’s most skilled centers, shifty in traffic and difficult to hit. Finished tied for 10th in the league in points (49). Over half of Ribeiro’s points (25) came on the power play while stationed along the goal line. Acquired in a draft-day deal last June, he became the second-line center Washington had been searching for since Sergei Fedorov left after the 2008-09 season. Has a bad habit, however, of losing his cool with officials.

RW – Troy Brouwer

A monster year with 19 goals and 14 assists through 47 games. Brouwer’s career-high remains 22, but that was in 78 games. Excels at finding soft spots in defensive coverage and ripping one-timers. Shooting far more than in years past (111). Also features a nifty wrister off the rush that can catch goalies off guard. A big body (6-3, 213) unafraid of the front of the net.

 

3rd line

LW – Jason Chimera

Such is puck luck. Chimera had a career year in 2011-12 with 20 goals. He can’t buy one this season with just three. Still among the fastest skaters in the NHL, still ferocious on the forecheck.

C – Mathieu Perreault

Not a typical third-line center. Small in stature (listed at a generous 5-10, 185), but skilled. Perreault had 16 goals in a breakthrough role last season. He has six in 39 games this time.

RW – Eric Fehr

A fine comeback story. Fehr struggled last year to shake off shoulder surgery and was not re-signed by his hometown Jets last summer. Without a job when the lockout started, it took a nice effort playing in Finland to catch Washington’s attention. The team, in need of forward depth, brought back its one-time Winter Classic hero and first round draft pick. Fought his way onto the ice – even spent time on the second line – and scored nine goals with eight assists.

4th line

LW – Matt Hendricks

A heart-and-soul player, Hendricks has missed nine games in three seasons. A key penalty killer, willing to pay the price physically. Has five goals in 2013. Versatile. Can play center and fill in on a higher line, if needed.

C – Jay Beagle

Limited offensively, but a relentless forechecker and penalty killer. Best on the team in the faceoff circle (56.1 percent). Was in excellent form during last year’s postseason before a broken foot felled him in Game 5 against the Rangers.

RW – Joel Ward

Returns to the lineup tonight for the first time since April 7 after taking a shot off his left knee. Missed the final nine games of the season. Strong on the boards, if not the swiftest skater. Scored eight goals – though four came in January – with 12 assists. Save for last year’s disastrous Game 5 penalty against the Rangers, has forged a reputation as a formidable postseason performer.

 

Defensemen

1st pairing

LD Karl Alzner

So steady you sometimes forget he’s on the ice. Not quite as strong this season as last. Limited offensively. But makes consistently good decisions, skates well and is a perfect complement to either Mike Green or John Carlson.

RD Mike Green

Another star who found his game this year. In Green’s case, health is a critical factor. Led all NHL defenseman in goals scored. Exploded for 10 goals and nine assists in the last 18 games. Quite simply, a game-changer when he’s on fire like this.

2nd pairing

LD John Erskine

A physical force around the crease. Played in just 28 games last season, falling out of favor with then-coach Dale Hunter, but has responded with a career-year. No Caps defenseman was on the ice for fewer goals/60 minutes (1.75).

RD John Carlson

A disaster of a start is a distant memory now. It seemed Carlson was on the ice for every goal against in January and early February. By year’s end his goals against/60 was a stellar 2.04. Also contributed with 22 points ( six goals, 16 assists) and leads the second power-play unit.  Has six goals and six assists in 24 career games, including playoffs, vs. Rangers.

3rd pairing

LD Jack Hillen

An under-the-radar summer signing after a tough finish to last year in Nashville. Hillen was hurt in the season opener (shoulder) Jan. 19 and missed two months. Back healthy he had three goals and six assists in the final 22 games. A fine skater who can move the puck out of trouble fast.

RD Steve Oleksy

Not on anyone’s radar before the season. Conservatively, Oleksy was 12th on the organizational depth chart. But when Oates and assistant Calle Johansson coached at AHL Hershey during the first six weeks of the lockout, Oleksy stood out. In need of a right-handed shot in early March, the 27-year-old career minor-leaguer, got the call. He had four points in his first four games and has held his own in his rookie season. A prodigious fighter in the AHL, he hasn’t had to do that here. But Oleksy can deliver a blow.

 

Injuries

LW – Brooks Laich

Finally caved to the inevitable and had sports hernia surgery in mid-April. Had been plagued by a groin issue since playing in Switzerland during the lockout. Appeared in just nine games with the Caps before he was re-injured April 4 in a game against the Islanders. Used in all roles, the Caps miss Laich. Unlikely to return until the second round, if they make it that far. Has yet to start skating.

 

Scratches

LW – Aaron Volpatti

Rugged customer acquired off waivers from Vancouver in February. Played in place of Ward down the stretch. A big body, established fighter and signed a two-year contract extension last month.

LW – Wojtek Wolski

A cheap signing last summer. The club hoped to get production similar to Alex Semin’s down 2012-13 season (21 goals) at a fraction of the cost. It just hasn’t worked out. Wolski’s been a consistent healthy scratch in March and April.

D – Jeff Schultz

Hasn’t played a game since March 31 when he struggled badly in a game against the Flyers. Once a mainstay in the Washington lineup, he’s fallen out of favor the last two years. Appeared in 54 games last season and just 26 this year – though, to be fair, he was in for 10 of 14 playoff games last spring.

D – Tom Poti

One of the best stories in the NHL this year. Missed almost two full seasons with a groin injury/pelvic fracture and his career appeared over. But showed up at training camp healthy, made the team in the final year of his contract and has appeared in 16 games. Nagging injuries (neck, back) knocked him from the lineup, but Poti is healthy now.

Follow me on Twitter @bmcnally14

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