Caps, Rangers analyze tapes for weaknesses

Capitals coach Adam Oates often employs a go-to analogy about the modern NHL.

In the relatively short span of time between the end of his Hall-of-Fame playing career in 2004 and now, the league has become akin to the NFL, where video data is relentlessly mined by coaching staffs to unlock every possible tendency of opposing players and teams. There are no secrets anymore. And that only becomes magnified in the midst of a Stanley Cup playoff series.

So it is with the Caps and New York Rangers, who are facing each other in the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons. Two of those series went all seven games and this one is now guaranteed to go at least six after New York swept both games at Madison Square Garden this week. Game 5 is Friday night at Verizon Center.

Up Next
Rangers vs. Capitals
When » Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Where » Verizon Center

There have been no major changes by either team so far. John Tortorella's Rangers are still a physical, shot-blocking club built from their star goalie out. It is the subtle move that each coaching staff hopes spells the difference between advancement and elimination.

"I think for us, when you watch the video, the adjustments are decisions on a certain play," Oates said after Thursday's practice at Kettler Iceplex. "And how one play leads to the next play and how every guy can make more plays in the game. Strategically, I don't think there's any structural adjustments to be made."

One recent example broke against the Caps. In 2011, the team had just beaten New York in five games and had a long layoff before a series with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Unfortunately, Tampa's trapping system was a bad fit for a Washington blueline that was an injured mess with players like Mike Green and John Carlson playing at far less than full strength. The Caps couldn't move the puck through Tampa's stifling neutral zone structure and constant turnovers led to goals against.

"We didn't change enough and we didn't stand a chance in four games," defenseman Karl Alzner said of that four-game sweep. "If you just leave it and try to go about winning a different way instead of taking advantage of a team's weaknesses ,you're in for a rude awakening."

Last year that changed in a first-round series victory against Boston. In that one, Washington tried to play off the Bruins' notorious combativeness and, Alzner said, it was able to get some of Boston's skill players off their game until late in the series.

In the 48 hours between Game ?4 in New York and Game 5 in the District, it could be something as simple as one coaching staff realizing a particular defenseman is laboring with a physical injury or noticing the opposing goalie isn't handling a shot to a specific spot well.

"It's those kinds of adjustments that make playoff hockey what it is," Caps forward Matt Hendricks said. "That's why energy is so important, being physical is so important. Try to wear teams down. Those are the little differences, those little details that can help you win and lose a series."