February 12 vs. New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden
Time: 12:30 pm TV: NBC Radio: 1500AM, 820AM, XM and Caps Radio Network Pre-Game: Two-Man Advantage at 10:30 a.m., John Walton’s one-on-one audio with Dale Hunter at 10:30 a.m., all on washingtoncaps.com.
Washington Capitals (28-21-5)
New York Rangers (34-13-5)
After finishing off a 1-1-1 homestand with a disappointing shootout loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday at Verizon Center, the Caps are back in action and back on the road on Sunday. With their dads and mentors along for the ride, the Capitals boarded a Saturday afternoon train to Manhattan. Washington will face the New York Rangers at the newly refurbished Madison Square Garden on Sunday afternoon.
The Caps were three minutes away from earning a regulation win over the Jets when Winnipeg struck for two power play goals in a span of just 12 seconds late in the third period of Thursday’s game. The Jets’ late rally forced the game to overtime and Winnipeg wrested the two points in the post-game skills competition.
Washington played a terrific game against the Jets right from the opening puck drop. The Caps did everything right but score; it took them until midway through the third period to light the red lamp and they needed a pair of power plays to get it done.
Now Washington starts a key stretch of the schedule in which it must play five of its next six games on the road. The Caps have struggled on the road this season, going just 9-14-3 away from Verizon Center.
Each of Washington’s next four games will be played as parts of back-to-back sets of games. Immediately after Sunday’s matinee match with the Rangers, the Caps come back home to host the San Jose Sharks on Monday. They depart for a four-game road trip on Thursday, with the first two games of that journey coming on Friday in Florida and Saturday in Tampa Bay, respectively.
“It’s a big game,” says Caps defenseman Roman Hamrlik of Sunday’s meeting with the Rangers. “The way we played last game, I think we should continue and we should be fine. Every game is a big game and we should get some points. Like I said many times, [we need to] start winning on the road and getting some points on the road.”
Florida’s 3-1 win over the Devils on Saturday puts added pressure on the Capitals. The Caps trail the Cats by two points in the Southeast Division standings with another showdown – the third meeting between the two teams in 17 days – looming this Friday.
Washington has struggled on the road all season in 2011-12 but if it plays the way it did in its last two home games, it will be competitive regardless of location and opponent.
“I think over the past two games,” begins Caps defenseman John Carlson, “we’ve been feeling a little bit better as far as skating and getting our game plan to work with that speed that we have on this team, that maybe we weren’t using a little bit. We can feel a little bit more confident.
“But last game makes this game more important for us. [The Rangers] are a rival of ours and they’ve always played us though and going into that building is tough as well. For us right now, we need these two points.”
New York occupies the top spot in the Eastern Conference standings. The Rangers have not won a division title since 1993-94 when they won the Atlantic Division, the Presidents’ Trophy and their first Stanley Cup championship since 1940.
The Rangers lost the first three games of the season (0-1-2) but haven’t lost more than two games in succession since. The Blueshirts have not lost consecutive contests since mid-December when they dropped a 1-0 decision to Dallas on Dec. 13 followed by a 4-1 setback in St. Louis two nights later.
Since then, New York is 17-5-1. one of those five regulation losses came against the Capitals at Verizon Center on Dec. 28. Washington skated off with a 4-1 win over the Rangers that night. The Rangers reeled off a five-game winning streak in the immediate aftermath of that last loss in the District.
New York defeated the Flyers in Philadelphia on Saturday, pushing their Atlantic Division lead to six points over the Flyers. Philly has played two more games than New York as well.
Saturday’s win moved the Rangers to within a single point of Detroit for the top spot in the NHL’s overall standings. Playing in their newly remodeled Broadway home, the Rangers are 17-6-2 on home ice this season.
“I’ve played there so many times,” says Hamrlik. “It’s one of the oldest buildings and one of the [most] famous buildings in the league. I’m always excited to go there. I’m looking forward to [this trip]. It’s a fun building to play in.”
“I’m excited to see what it looks like,” echoes Caps defenseman Dennis Wideman. “We haven’t been there since they’ve changed it all up. It’s pretty fun there. All the stuff that’s happened there, all the sporting events that have gone on there over the years, it’s quite an experience to play in the Garden.”
Washington rode the rails to New York for this trip to New York, and the Caps brought along a bigger crew than the one they usually travel with. The journey to New York is also the fifth annual “Mentors’ Trip,” in which each player is invited to bring his father or a significant role model/mentor/family member along for the trip. Sixteen of the Capitals took advantage of the opportunity and brought along their fathers or a mentor to the Big Apple.
“It’s awesome,” says Carlson. “It’s like a huge family, really. You see the guys joking around and now you see them joking around with their dads. They’ve been here a day, and some of them know each other from last year and years prior. Everybody gets along great and they certainly make their fun on this trip.”