November 17 vs. New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden Time: 7:00 pm TV: Versus Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM
Washington Capitals (12-4-4)
New York Rangers (11-8-1)
Twenty games into the 2009-10 regular season, the Washington Capitals are set to play an Atlantic Division opponent for the 10th time. At the conclusion of Tuesday night’s game against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, Washington will have played half of its entire slate of games against Atlantic Division foes this season.
Coming off Saturday night’s 5-2 loss against the Devils in Newark, the Caps are 3-3-3 against Atlantic Division clubs this season. The Caps have played just four games against the clubs from their own (Southeast) division this season.
Saturday’s setback in New Jersey halted the Capitals’ winning streak at four games. Washington has collected at least a point in 13 of its last 15 games (10-2-3) with both regulation losses coming at the hands of the Devils in that span.
After missing the last half dozen games with an upper body strain, Caps left wing Alex Ovechkin appears ready to return to the lineup on Tuesday in New York.
“We’ll see [Tuesday],” says Ovechkin. “I feel pretty good and excited. We’ll see [Tuesday] how I feel.”
“As of today he is,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau, asked whether Ovechkin will return on Tuesday. “I think he’s fine. He practiced today and there is a good probability of it happening.”
Washington went 4-2 in Ovechkin’s absence, with both losses coming to the Eastern Conference-leading Devils. The Caps scored 22 goals in six games without Ovechkin, and they went 6-for-14 (42.9%) on the power play. Washington has at least one power play goal in nine of its last 10 games, and it is 12-for-34 (35.3%) with the extra man during that period of time.
While Ovi was out of the lineup, Boudreau moved center Brendan Morrison to the point position with good effect. With Ovechkin’s return imminent and with rugged right wing Mike Knuble now on the sidelines with a broken finger, Boudreau has opted to keep Morrison on the point with Mike Green.
At least for the start of Tuesday’s game against New York, it appears Ovechkin will play up front on the power play with Nicklas Backstrom and Tomas Fleischmann.
“I am just trying something new,” says Boudreau. “Brendan has done a very good job with that right there.”
“I’m going to try to play like Mike Knuble plays,” says Ovechkin. “He uses his body in front of the goalie. I’m just going to do the same.”
“The one thing about Alex is wherever he plays,” says Boudreau, “people pay attention to him more. I wanted to try to do different things because you knew he was coming back eventually. And you knew what the story would be: ‘Well, the power play is going so well, where do you put Alex?’ And so I am practicing different stuff and we’ll figure out what is the best situation for him.”
“It’s more that I really like the way Mo was playing back there than not the way Alex was playing. Alex led the league in points on the power play last year. The options are good.”
Ovechkin has played the point on the power play almost exclusively since coming into the NHL. He led the league with 46 power play points from that spot last season. If teams pay extra attention to Ovechkin in front, Green and Morrison may have more room to shoot and distribute.
“It gives us more space,” says Ovechkin, “especially Mike and Mo upstairs. But if I have a chance to shoot over there, I will have better opportunities to score goals over there.
Happy to be back in the lineup after two weeks on the sidelines, Ovechkin isn’t picky about where he plays on Washington’s extra-man unit.
“I don’t care,” he says. “If the team needs me down low, I am going to be down low. It’s the most important thing right now to bounce back. We lost bad [last game] and now we have to bounce back especially against New York. They have a pretty good team in their building.”
The Caps will do what they can to make the new alignment a prosperous one.
“We’ll have to find ways to get him the puck so he gets his shots,” says Morrison.
Morrison is familiar with playing on the blueline while his team is a man to the good.
“I didn’t play any last year in Anaheim,” says Morrison. “I played it a little bit in Dallas at the end of the year. But before that in Vancouver, I was back there pretty much seven years. So I am pretty comfortable.
“I don’t mind it. Most times I would play the back side, the guy moving in and out looking for back door plays and things like that. But I’m fine either side. If it’s more being the distributor or the back side guy out there I am comfortable out there.”
Morrison’s presence in that spot gives Washington a good veteran head with a defensive conscience, and that could help diminish the alarming number of breakaways the Caps have permitted in the other direction while on the power play this season.
“Alex is just as aggressive offensively as I am,” admits Green. “There are going to be times when we get caught or something. With Mo, he’s a defensive player to begin with, and he’s just more aware of when to watch me or the right plays to make up at the top.”
Tuesday’s tilt between the Caps and the Rangers is the second meeting between the two clubs this season. The Rangers downed the Caps by a 4-3 count at Verizon Center on Oct. 8.
After roaring out to a 7-1 start this season, New York has gone 4-7-1 in a dozen games since. With 23 points, the Rangers are jammed into the middle of the tightly packed Atlantic Division standings.
The Rangers are missing their top two centers, Chris Drury and Brandon Dubinsky. Both were injured on New York’s recent Western road trip. Drury is out indefinitely with a concussion and Dubinsky will miss 4-6 weeks with a broken right hand.
Drury and Dubinsky are incumbents in a roster that underwent an off-season makeover. Newcomers Marian Gaborik, Vinny Prospal and Ales Kotalik and rookie blueliners Michael Del Zotto and Matt Gilroy have made an impact in the season’s first quarter for the Rangers.
Gaborik, Prospal Kotalik and Del Zotto are New York’s top four scorers thus far. Gaborik is second in the league’s scoring race, Prospal has put up better than a point per game after Tampa Bay bought him out over the summer, and Kotalik leads the league in power play points.
Del Zotto leads all rookie defensemen in scoring and Gilroy’s plus-7 is the best mark on the Rangers. Del Zotto has put up 10 of his 15 points on the power play and Gilroy is getting top four ice time on the Blueshirts’ blueline.