January 24 vs. New York Rangers at Verizon Center
Time: 7:30 pm TV: Versus Radio: 820AM, 1500AM and XM Pre-Game: Pre-Cap Podcast at 2 p.m. on washingtoncaps.com
New York Rangers (28-19-3)
Washington Capitals (27-14-8)
Washington closes out the home portion of its January schedule on Monday night when the New York Rangers make their first Verizon visit of the season. The Capitals just concluded a three-game road trip with a 2-0-1 mark.
Rookie goalie Braden Holtby made 35 saves and Alex Ovechkin recorded his first hat trick of the season in front of a Hockey Night in Canada audience to send the Caps home with a 4-1 victory over the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Saturday night.
Two games remain on Washington’s January slate prior to next weekend’s NHL All-Star Game in Raleigh.
The Capitals led the NHL with an average of 3.82 goals per game last season, but their recent winning formula has been much different. Washington’s goal production has dipped to 2.80 per game – 13th in the league – but the team is still on pace to surpass the 100-point plateau for a third consecutive campaign, something the Caps have never achieved in their 36-year franchise history.
While the offensive has tapered off, the Caps’ team defense has been exemplary. Washington has allowed 2.51 goals per game on the season, seventh best in the league. Opponents have tallied 123 goals in 49 games against the Capitals, putting Washington on a pace for 206 goals allowed on the season. The last time the Caps allowed that few goals over a full season was 1999-00, when they surrendered 194 in a 102-point campaign that resulted in a Southeast Division title.
The last time the Capitals and Rangers met, New York gave Washington a 7-0 drubbing at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 12. since then, the Caps have tightened up drastically on defense. The Capitals have earned at least a point in 14 of 17 games since then (9-3-5), allowing just 33 goals in those 17 contests.
Currently, the Caps are in the midst of their best sustained run of defensive hockey since the final 20 games of the 2007-08 season. Washington finished that season by allowing just 37 goals in its final 20 games, going 15-4-1 in the process and snaring the Southeast Division title on the final weekend of the season.
Two of the key elements of Washington’s elevated defensive awareness are its penalty killing and its shot blocking acumen. The Caps have killed off 85.7% of the opposition’s manpower advantage situations this season to rank second in the league in that category. The Capitals have killed 20 of their last 21 (95.2%) shorthanded situations over the last six games and have snuffed out 48 of 52 (92.3%) over their last 13 contests.
Washington has allowed more than one power play goal in just three of its 49 games this season.
In Saturday’s 4-1 win over the Leafs, Washington blocked a single-game high 27 shots. When the Capitals block 16 or more shots in a game this season, they are 16-1-3.
The Capitals have blocked 20 or more shots six times this season, including two straight games and three times in the last seven games. They’re 4-0-2 when they block 20 or more shots in a game.
While Washington has averaged just 2.31 goals in its last 13 games, its top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Jason Chimera has started to heat up. The trio has accounted for six of Washington’s last eight goals.
Ovechkin has four goals and six points in those three games. Backstrom has picked up an assist in five straight games, seven of his last nine and nine of his last 11. He has a goal and seven points in his last five games. Chimera has a four-game scoring streak (two goals, four assists), matching his longest as a member of the Capitals.
Although the Rangers have one more win than the Capitals, they come to town with three fewer standings points than Washington. New York is running third in the Atlantic Division and seventh in the Eastern Conference.
New York won three straight games shortly after the turn of the calendar, but the Rangers are 3-4 since.
Like the Caps, the Rangers have struggled recently on the power play. The Blueshirts are 4-for-40 (10%) with the extra man over their last 13 contests.
Beginning with a Dec. 12 whitewashing of the Capitals in New York, the Rangers have surrendered just 37 goals in their last 19 games. New York has allowed just 2.4 goals per game this season, the sixth best rate in the NHL.
New York has been playing without several key forwards for a while now. Vinny Prospal, Ryan Callahan, Alex Frolov and Erik Christensen have all been out of the lineup for more than two weeks. Leading scorer Brandon Dubinsky recently joined them on the sidelines with a stress fracture in his left leg.
As always, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is playing a key role in New York’s success this season. He is tied for the league lead with seven shutouts, is third in save pct. (.927), sixth in GAA (2.25) and tied for sixth in wins (21).