December 12 vs. New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden
Time: 7:00 pm TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM
Washington Capitals (18-10-3)
New York Rangers (17-13-1)
Less than 24 hours after concluding their longest homestand of the season with a 3-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche, the Washington Capitals head out on the road for a quick, one-game trip to face a former Patrick Division foe, the New York Rangers. The Caps and Blueshirts will hook up on Sunday night at Madison Square Garden.
Saturday’s loss to the Avs was Washington’s fifth in a row (0-4-1). It’s the team’s longest losing skid since Bruce Boudreau took over behind the Capitals’ bench on Nov. 22, 2007. Washington is 4-6-2 in its last dozen games.
Even in a losing effort on Saturday, Boudreau believes his team turned in one of its better efforts in the team’s last dozen games.
“That looked more like our team tonight,” he said after the Colorado loss. “When things aren’t going well, that’s what happens. It’s on the upswing. It’s not on the downswing. If we have an effort like that [Sunday], we might get rewarded for it.”
The loss leaves Washington with a four-point lead over second-place Atlanta and a five-point cushion over third-place Tampa Bay in the Southeast Division standings.
Boudreau called out his top six forwards after Thursday’s occasionally lackluster 3-0 loss to the Florida Panthers. Naming the names of several of his top offensive players, Boudreau sparked a few of them into workmanlike efforts in the Colorado game.
“You could tell the difference,” said Boudreau after Saturday’s game. “[Alex Ovechkin] was skating, he was moving, he was hitting. I thought he did a good job that way. [Mike] Knuble was working and Nicky [Backstrom] was a little better, but he can still play better, but he tried. He’s coming right out of sickbed. He gave it everything he had.”
Although he is one of several Caps currently bothered by flu symptoms, Backstrom battled through and led all Caps forwards with 25:05 in ice time. It’s the most ice time the Caps’ top pivot has had in a game this season.
During their last dozen games, the Caps have been outscored by a dozen goals at even strength (28-16). Only four Washington forwards – Ovechkin, Knuble, Backstrom and rookie Marcus Johansson – have been on the ice for more even-strength goals scored than even-strength goals against in the team’s last dozen games.
Ovechkin, Knuble and Backstrom were all on the ice for Washington’s lone even-strength goal against Colorado. Johansson, who has been on the ice for a single even-strength tally in his last 11 games, was a healthy scratch against the Avalanche.
Special teams have not posed a problem for the Caps in the last 12 games. Washington’s power play has converted 10 of 46 (21.8%) of its chances during that span, although the Caps are 4-for-25 (16%) in their last seven contests.
Opponents have tallied a power play goal in each of the last five games against the Capitals, but Washington is 43-for-51 (84.3%) on the kill in its last 12 games.
The Caps are hoping that Saturday’s gritty effort can springboard into another on Sunday in New York, but with better results.
“That’s hockey,” mused Hendricks after Saturday’s loss. “You’re going to have those nights. You play like that every night, you’re going to win more games then you’re going to lose. That’s the good thing. That leaves a good feeling and something to build from.”
Sunday’s game marks the Capitals’ second and final visit to Broadway this season. The Caps came away with a 5-3 victory over the Rangers here on Nov. 9. That triumph was the fifth in Washington’s season-long six-game winning streak that ran from Oct. 30-Nov. 11.
Since the two teams last met more than a month ago in Manhattan, the Capitals are 7-6-3 while the Rangers are 10-6.
New York was also in action on Saturday; it suffered a 3-1 road loss to the Blue Jackets in Columbus. Like the Caps, the Rangers turned in a strong effort only to come up short on the scoreboard. The Blueshirts had 33 shots on goal in Saturday’s loss at Columbus. It’s the first time in 11 games New York has exceeded 30 shots on goal in a game.
Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist has started eight of the last nine games (playing in all nine) for New York, posting a 5-4 record in the process. Although he has pitched two shutouts during that stretch, he has also allowed three or more goals in four of those games.
Lundqvist may yield to backup Martin Biron on Sunday against Washington. Biron is 10-8-3 lifetime with a 2.58 GAA and a .911 save pct. against Washington. Lundqvist is 9-6-2 with a 3.07 GAA and an .893 save pct. during his career against the Capitals.
Washington will have its work cut out for it against the Rangers on Sunday at the Garden. New York is a perfect 7-0 in the second of back-to-back games this season. The Rangers have outscored opponents 20-6 in such games, and they are 2-0 when the second of those back-to-back games is on home ice.
The Blueshirts are 16-2-2 in the second of back-to-back games over the last two seasons, and they’re 6-1-1 when the second of those contests is on home ice.
Overall, the Rangers are just 6-8-1 on home ice this season while posting an impressive 11-5 mark on the road.
New York comes into Sunday’s game in third place in the Atlantic Division, nine points behind the torrid Pittsburgh Penguins.