During the regular season the New York Rangers were third in the NHL in goals per game [3.02] and the Capitals were sixth [2.89].
But in the playoffs, the Rangers are averaging just 1.88 goals per game, while the Caps are at 2.10.
Why? Everyone on the ice is just a little more desperate.
In the Capitals’ 1-0 win in Game 3 on Monday night, the Rangers generated 69 attempts at the net. Thirty of them found their way to Braden Holtby, while 27 were blocked and 12 more missed the net. Defenseman Matt Niskanen led all players with seven blocks, while Mike Green and John Carlson each had five.
“I look at the urgency of our players,” Carlson said. “I think [Monday] night we had a couple big blocks from our forwards, too, and those are the ones you really look for.”
Capitals coach Barry Trotz mentioned a key block by Alex Ovechkin that led to a breakaway and a selfless block by Marcus Johansson that saved a goal.
The Capitals’ ability to force the Rangers to the outside, along with Holtby’s quick reflexes, has started to frustrate some of New York’s star players.
Through three games in the series, which the Caps lead 2-1, the Rangers’ top line of Rick Nash [one assist, even], Derick Brassard [1 goal, even] and Marty St. Louis [1 assist, even] has scored just one goal on a combined 29 shots. Nash had five shots blocked in Game 3.
“You have to fight a little bit more in the paint,” said St. Louis, who has no goals and two assists in eight playoff games. “It's really hard to get our shots through.”
Nash has just one goal in eight playoff games and in 49 career playoff games he has just six goals.
[MORE CAPITALS: Capitals, Rangers too even to call after 3 games]
“This is a results oriented business,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “You can play real well and do the right things with and without the puck on both ends and in the neutral zone.
“At the end of the day, you expect Martin St. Louis to find the back of the net. You expect Rick Nash to find the back of the net. You expect Derrick Brassard to help those two guys and himself find the back of the net. The quality of the goaltending that we're seeing and the quality of the defensive play from both teams, there are not a lot of Grade A chances.”
Quick on the draw: Caps centers Jay Beagle won 10 of 12 faceoffs and Nicklas Backstrom won 15 of 20 in Game 3 as the Caps held a 69 percent edge on draws. Derek Stepan lost 13 of his 16 draws, while Brassard lost 15 of 22.
Caps coach Barry Trotz credits the countless hours after practice that assistant coach Blaine Forsythe has worked with the team’s centers.
“We’ve been good with it all year,” said Caps coach Barry Trotz, who saw Backstrom and Beagle win a pair of key defensive zone draws in the closing minute of Monday night’s win. “Forget about the defense, it’s calming for the coach. Just like anything, you want to be assertive in what you do.”
Andre the [future] Giant: Caps rookie Andre Burakovsky earned the first playoff point of his career on Beagle’s first playoff game-winning goal in Game 3. The lanky 6-foot-3, 198-pound left wing played an assertive brand of hockey with three hits.
“He doesn’t have the man strength yet,” Trotz said with a smile. “He’s still got that boy strength. And that’ll come. That’s just the maturity of a player.”
What’s next: The Caps have a chance to go up 3-1 in the series when they meet again Wednesday night at Verizon, where the Caps are 4-1 in the post-season.
“We know they’ll be coming, but we’ve got to push back instead of just waiting for them to come.” Johansson said.