When the Capitals and Rangers met in the playoffs last season their styles of play were near mirror images. For seven games they dueled as risk-averse teams with a priority on shot blocking and protecting one’s own zone at all costs.
This year’s Eastern Conference quarterfinal matchup won’t feature twin systems and styles, though.
The Rangers remain the self-sacrificing, aggressive forechecking team that they’ve always been under Coach John Tortorella, even if they have a little more offensive firepower than in years past.
But Washington, under Coach Adam Oates, plays an aggressive, pressure-based style in all three zones that thrives off creating neutral-zone turnovers. The Capitals want to protect their own zone and limit quality chances against their goaltenders, but they’d rather do it by spending time in the offensive zone.
“I think if we take momentum this system helps us a lot,” Matt Hendricks said. “If we can put them on their heels and force them to play outside their comfort zone, force them to take chances when they don’t want to – because they’d be behind and have to try and score – our system can really benefit us.”
All but Game 1 of last year’s Eastern Conference semifinal series between the two teams was decided by one goal. While low-scoring, nail-biting games are a trademark of the Stanley Cup playoffs the Capitals believe they have a better opportunity to take true control of contests with this year’s system.