New York Hockey: Semyon Varlamov

W2W4: Gm. 1 Rangers vs. Capitals

April, 13, 2011
The 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs get underway tonight. Here's what to watch for when the Rangers clash with the Capitals at 7:30 p.m. in D.C. Preview link

A Fast Start

This is a multi-stage note. If the Rangers can get out of the gates quickly with a goal or two, they can help rekindle some memories of past playoff nightmares for the Caps. Claim Game 1 in a lopsided manor and the Blueshirts can not only steal home-ice advantage from the East's top seed, but they can plant the seeds of doubt in a team and fan base that has experienced nothing but playoff disappointment since the franchise returned to prominence. It could also trigger a goalie controversy considering the Caps are still slightly torn on which netminder -- Michal Neuvirth or Semyon Varlamov -- should get the start. But even after the first goal the Rangers can't let up. The Caps own the league's best winning percentage when trailing after the first period at .489.

Green and Blue lines

Caps top D-man Mike Green is expected to dress for the first time since suffering a concussion against the Rangers on Feb. 25. Despite his high skill level, he's likely to be a little rusty as he tries to get back to game speed. Couple that with his turnover tendencies and the Rangers may be able to force a few giveaways if they can apply some pressure to him. On the other end of the ice, the Blueshirts blueliners aren't exactly drowning in playoff experience. This will be the first postseason for Matt Gilroy and rookies Ryan McDonagh and Michael Sauer. New York will certainly need them to play with the poise they've shown during the regular season to contain the Caps' multiple weapons.

Captain Clutch

Remember that handle? Chris Drury rekindled memories of it with his oh-so-timely goal to tie the score at 1 vs. the Devils in Game 82. How will he carry over that play to the postseason? It will be interesting to see if his ice time increases at all as the series progresses. I'd imagine that the Rangers would send him out a little more often in faceoff situations anyway. Drury is the team's best faceoff man and the Caps rate as a top-five team in the circle. The Rangers? 25th overall. In tight games where every draw (and ensuing shot) can make a difference, just winning a few key faceoffs may be Drury's biggest contribution, but it's one that should not be overlooked or undervalued.
<a href="">Michal Neuvirth</a>

W2W4: Devils vs. Capitals

December, 21, 2010
The Devils take on the Washington Capitals Tuesday night in D.C., looking to rebound from the worst loss of a dismal season against another talented team fallen on hard times. Here’s what to watch for when the puck drops in the nation’s capital.

Get It On Goal

As E.J. Hradek pointed out in his Insider blog on Monday, it appeared the Devils were trying to be too fine with their puck placement in last Friday’s loss to the Nashville Predators. Attempting to snipe for the corners, the Devils instead ripped shots wide of goal entirely. That denied the Devs of any opportunity to poke home a rebound or two. Against the Caps, just getting it on goal could pay dividends. Neither Michal Neuvirth nor Semyon Varlamov has looked sharp during the Caps’ recent eight game skid. Until Sunday’s win over the Ottawa Senators, Neuvirth had posted a save percentage better than .900 just once in his previous five games. Get the puck on goal and you never know what can happen.

The First Is The Worst

The Caps have given up the first goal in seven of their last nine games. And while they halted their slide against the Sens on the road, fans at Verizon Center can still recall those recent hardships. If the Devils can get on the board first it will help rekindle those fresh, painful memories for Caps fans and add some pressure. Plus, it’s pretty important for the downtrodden Devils. Not only will it help with the team’s confidence, but the Devs sport just a .111 winning percentage when trailing at the end of the first period.

Familiar Foe

Ilya Kovalchuk may still be earning minus ratings every game, but his scoring is picking up. The Russian is as hot as he’s ever been this season, posting eight points in the last seven games. Perhaps the sight of a familiar opponent will further spur his success? Kovalchuk has faced the Caps 44 times as a member of the Atlanta Thrashers and has been better than a point-per-game player against the Southeast Conference foe (52 points). This season he hasn’t registered a point in either of the Devils’ previous two games against the Caps, which sounds like he’s due for a breakout performance.

Food For Thought

Trade Brodeur??!?!?! I know what you’re first thought will be when your read Scott Burnside’s blog post suggesting the Devils should deal Martin Brodeur, and yes, I find it amusing that fans of the Devils are concerned with heresy. But seriously, aside from Zach Parise and Travis Zajac, both seen as untouchable parts of the Devils’ core for the future, Brodeur probably has the most trade value and the market for goalies is pretty good right now, with possible demand in Tampa Bay and Washington, as Burnside suggests. It seems clear that the Devils are going down in flames this season and require some major moves to make sure they can afford Parise next season. It may be unpalatable, and GM Lou Lamoriello may never even consider it or the goalie may not waive his no-trade clause, but in theory, Brodeur is probably the best bullet in any potential trade arsenal. That begs an interesting question: Would Devils fans prefer another season or two of torment, possibly losing Parise in the process, or see Martin Brodeur close out his career in a different color jersey than Jersey’s?