November 9 vs. New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Versus Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Pre-Cap pre-game podcast on www.washingtoncaps.com at 2 p.m.
Washington Capitals (10-4-0)
New York Rangers (7-6-1)
After running the table on a three-game homestand to start the month of November, the Caps head back on the road for the first of their five road contests this month. They’ll pay a visit to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday.
The Caps closed out the homestand in fine fashion with a 3-2 overtime win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday. Caps defenseman Mike Green scored the fifth overtime game-winner of his career at the 29-second mark of the extra session.
Fourteen games into the 2010-11 NHL season, the Capitals have defeated every team they’ve faced except for the Minnesota Wild. It’s very unlikely the Caps will face the Wild again prior to the 2011-12 regular season.
Although they’ve fallen to Atlanta and Boston, the Caps have also defeated the Thrashers and Bruins this season. Washington has downed eight different Eastern Conference clubs in the first month of the season, but they’ll face three new foes this week beginning with Tuesday’s tilt against the Rangers.
Teams are always looking to beat clubs they might face in the playoffs as the postseason draws near, but what about getting the upper hand in the season’s series by winning the first meeting between the two teams?
“It’s definitely important,” says right wing Eric Fehr. “With the way we play all these teams so many times, we want to get it set in their head that we have their number. It’s important to win the first game of the season series.”
“It makes a big difference,” says Caps left wing Jason Chimera. “I know in Columbus when we played against Detroit we felt like we were going up against God every time we played. So it’s a big deal. I think anytime you can put a little fear into your opponent or get that upper hand a little bit, they’ve always got that question in the back of their minds.”
“I think so,” agrees Caps center Nicklas Backstrom. “We’re playing against good teams all the time right now. It’s very important we build up, have a good stretch and continue this on the road.”
As for the bench boss, he is just looking for distance.
“I don’t know if that’s the main importance,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “I think it’s important that at this time early in the year you put distance between yourself and the people behind you. Because there are going to be times that you’re going to go through rough stretches, whether it’s through injuries or whether it’s just through the ups and downs of the season. So when you have the opportunity you’ve got to be able to focus or concentrate and win each game. And if you can, who knows?
“We’re looking to play New York [Tuesday]. But if we were lucky and we get by them, and you look to the next game and we get by them and then all of a sudden at the end of the week you’re going, ‘Holy smokes, we’ve got 26, 28 points.’ You’re putting teams behind you. And it’s a difficult league to catch up in, as we all know. If you put yourself five games under .500 right now, that means for the rest of the year you probably have to play a minimum of 10 games over .500 just to make the playoffs. So we want to play as hard as we can every night.”
Washington is riding a four-game winning streak into Tuesday’s game, its second four-game streak of the season. Exactly half of the Capitals’ 14 games have been decided by a single goal, and the Caps are 6-1 in those contests.
“We’re playing worse when we’ve got three-goal leads, it seems like,” says Chimera. “When we’re up by one goal, we tighten up and guys play really good defensively and do the right things. You see guys dump it in, and I think when you get it in deep and make them play in their own end, it’s hard to come down and score goals.
“For the most part, that’s what we’ve been doing good. The penalty kill has been a big key and I think just getting pucks in deep is a big key, too.”
Boudreau sees the Caps’ success in one-goal games as a steppingstone to the team being a better postseason club.
“I was telling the guys, ‘We don’t want to win every game by one goal, but it’s great practice,’” says Boudreau. “If you’re pushing everything as far as how you’re going to react if you’re lucky enough to make the playoffs, one-goal games and how you play in them is a real important factor because in the playoffs every game is so close.
“Believe me, as coaches you’d like to have a 4-0 win every now and again, but when you’re playing in these one-goal games and you’re having success it means that the players are buying into what you have to do all the time. Hopefully it continues.”
Washington’s power play reached the 20% mark on the season with Green’s overtime goal against the Flyers. The Caps rank 10th in the league in that department. The Capitals stand seventh in the league in shorthanded effectiveness with an excellent 86.7% kill rate. The Caps’ face-off win rate of 49.6% is 19th in the NHL.
Tuesday’s game against the Caps is the second in a four-game homestand for the Rangers. The Blueshirts were blanked 2-0 by the St. Louis Blues on Sunday night in the homestand opener.
New York has managed to remain among the Eastern Conference’s top eight teams despite injuries to key veteran players such as Marian Gaborik, Vaclav Prospal and Chris Drury. The Rangers’ newly cobbled top unit of Artem Anisimov, Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan has been doing the heavy offensive lifting for the Rangers in the early going.
Dubinsky potted a career high 20 goals in 69 games last season, but he is currently tied for second in the circuit with 10 goals in just 14 games in 2010-11.
After going a pedestrian 18-17-6 on home ice last season, New York is just 2-4-1 in its seven home games in 2010-11. The Rangers have gone 5-2 on the road.
“They’re a real physical team,” says Fehr of the Rangers. “They’re pretty big and of course they’ve got [Henrik] Lundqvist in net, who has stolen a few games for them in the past. Obviously they’re a tough team to deal with.”
Lundqvist had Sunday night off, as backup Martin Biron was in goal for the loss against St. Louis. In his career against the Capitals, Lundqvist is 9-5-2 but his peripheral numbers are less impressive. He has a 3.01 GAA and an .897 save pct. lifetime against Washington.
“They’re hanging in there,” says Boudreau of the Rangers. “They’re playing really close to the vest and their goaltending has been great.
“It’s a perfect example of when someone goes down and another guy comes in and it’s his opportunity and he takes full advantage of it. Brandon Dubinsky has been a good player, but would you have thought of him as a 10-goal scorer? He might not have had the opportunity if Prospal and Gaborik and Drury were out.
“Guys take advantage of that situation and they play with a lot of confidence. Their young guys are playing with a lot of confidence and them coming off a loss, they’re going to be a tough game [Tuesday].”
The Blueshirts’ power play ranks 16th in the circuit with a 16.7% conversion rate. Penalty killing has been a strong suit of recent Rangers clubs, but not this team thus far this season. With a kill rate of 78% in 2010-11, New York is 26th in the league. The Rangers are 28th in the NHL with a 45.2% success rate in the face-off circle.