Feb 17 vs. New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden
Time: 6:00 pm
Radio: 106.7 The Fan and Caps Radio Network
Washington Capitals (5-8-1)
New York Rangers (7-5-1)
Washington concludes a three-game road trip with a Sunday visit to Manhattan where it will take on the New York Rangers. This is the Capitals’ first visit to Madison Square Garden since last May when the Rangers ousted the Caps in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series between the two teams.
On Sunday in New York, the Caps will be seeking to do something they haven’t done in nearly 13 years, achieve perfection on a road trip of three or more games in length. Since sweeping a three-game trip that took them to Montreal, Long Island and Tampa Bay from Feb. 26-March 1, 2000, the Caps have had 58 separate road trips of three or more games. They have not swept any of those last 58 trips.
Washington last won three consecutive road games just under a year ago, from Feb. 25-March 13, 2012. Those three consecutive road triumphs were part of three different trips with handfuls of home games in between.
The Caps carry a three-game overall winning streak with them to New York, but Washington still resides in the basement of the Eastern Conference standings, tied with Winnipeg, Florida and the New York Islanders for that spot.
“I think the last couple of games, we’ve played great,” says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin. “Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose, but now we have momentum on our side. We’re going to use it.”
After starting the season with 11 straight games in which they scored three or fewer goals, the Caps have scored four or more goals in each of the three games of their current winning streak. For the season, the Capitals’ average of 2.86 goals per game ranks tied for ninth in the NHL.
One of the main reasons for Washington’s offensive success of late has been the team’s performance on the power play. The Caps have tallied at least one power-play goal in each of their last six games, the team’s longest run since it scored in seven straight games with the extra man from March 6-18, 2010.
In its last three games, the Washington extra-man unit has been particularly deadly. The Caps have scored four power-play goals on just five shots on goal for a gaudy 80% shooting pct.
“I think we just have trust in the system that we’re trying to play on the PP,” says Caps right wing Troy Brouwer. “Guys are taking care of the puck, we’re not trying to force plays and we’re not turning pucks over. You see where some of our power-play shifts are 1:40 because we never leave the zone. That’s a good thing because we’re getting chances, we’re getting opportunities and we’re wearing those guys down.
“Guys are getting good looks, and when they do, they’re getting good shots. The face-offs are a big part of it as well, because that gives you possession right away rather than having to go down and kill some time off the clock and try to get your breakout in.”
At the other end of the ice, Washington has allowed 3.5 goals per game. That figure ranks 28th in the league. When the Caps allow two or fewer goals in a game this season, they are 3-0. When they allow three or more goals, the Capitals are 2-8-1.
Washington has started the 2012-13 season by playing 14 straight games in which at least five goals have been scored by the two teams. It’s the Caps longest such streak since they played 14 straight games with two teams combining for at least five goals from Oct. 30-Nov. 26, 2010.
“It’s better to take on anyone when you’re feeling good about yourself, than when you’re not doing so well.” says Brouwer. “Guys have confidence in this room. We have a little bit of cockiness I guess you would say, as far as playing well right now and trusting our systems.”
Since starting the season with successive setbacks, the Rangers are 7-3-1 in their last 11 games. The Rangers are 3-0-1 in their last four games and 6-2-1 in their last nine. New York’s three-game winning streak came to a halt on Thursday when it suffered a 4-3 shootout loss to the Islanders at Madison Square Garden.
That loss was somewhat vexing for the Rangers because it was the second time in as many games that New York coughed up a late lead. The Blueshirts owned a 3-0 third-period lead over the Bruins in Boston on Tuesday night, and they had to eke out a 4-3 shootout win in the end. Two nights later in their own building, the Rangers let a two-goal lead evaporate against the rival Islanders and they were forced to settle for a single point instead of a pair.
New York was a perfect 7-for-7 on the penalty kill in its season opener against Boston. But then the Rangers went through a stretch in which they allowed at least one power-play goal in eight straight games. The Blueshirts were 25-for-34 (73.5%) on the kill in those eight games, and they went 4-4 in those contests.
The Rangers have had things buttoned down on their penalty kill in the last four games, successfully snuffing out each of the dozen shorthanded situations with which they’ve been tasked. New York is 3-0-1 in those four spotless penalty-killing contests.
New York is just 5-for-48 (10.4%) with the extra man this season. The Rangers have yet to score more than one power-play goal in any game and they have yet to score an extra-man tally in consecutive games this season. The Caps hope to retain the truth in the latter half of that statement; New York went 1-for-4 with the extra man in Thursday night’s setback against the Islanders.
Having faced the Rangers in the playoffs in each of the last two springs, the Caps are very familiar with them and their Broadway barn.
“The Rangers are tough to play,” says Caps defenseman Karl Alzner. “I just remember how hard that series was. It’s not usually an easy team to play against as a defenseman. They come hard, they hit hard, their building is extremely tough to play in.”
Washington believes it is a better team than its record would indicate, but no doubt the Rangers feel the same way about themselves at this stage of the season.
“We always say you want to play with a little bit of a swagger,” says Alzner. “A team like Chicago and Vancouver, they have always had that. That’s why you hate them so much and sometimes you do things [against them] that you wouldn’t normally do.
“We need to get back to that. I think we were that way in the past. We need a bit of a swagger. We don’t want to get overconfident because we’re still toward the bottom of the league. But we need to be confident in our abilities.”
Notes: Caps defenseman Mike Green left Saturday’s practice before its completion, and also departed Thursday’s game against the Lightning in the waning minutes. Caps coach Adam Oates said Green has a lower body injury. Green traveled with the team to New York, but is not a definite to be in the lineup. If he can’t go, Oates said Tom Poti would replace him … Defenseman Jack Hillen also accompanied the team to New York. Hillen has been sidelined with an upper body injury sustained in the second period of Washington’s season-opening game at Tampa on Jan. 19.
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