Oct. 16 vs. New York Rangers at Verizon Center
Time: 8:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio Network
New York Rangers (1-4)
Washington Capitals (2-4)
Two nights after stopping a three-game losing run with a 4-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers, the Washington Capitals will try to construct the foundation of their first winning streak of the season when they host the New York Rangers on Wednesday night at Verizon Center.
The game marks the first meeting between the two Metropolitan Division rivals since the Rangers ousted Washington from the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs in a seven-game, first-round series last May.
For the Caps, Wednesday’s game is the fourth of their current season-long five-game homestand. For New York, the contest is the sixth of nine straight road games to open up the 2013-14 season.
Although the Caps were happy to come away with a win and two needed points with Monday’s victory over the Oilers, they are also mindful of an ongoing issue this season, namely their sluggish starts. Washington has surrendered the game’s first goal in four of its six games,
“We definitely need more energy coming out,” says Caps left wing Jason Chimera, “especially when we’re at home and can get the crowd involved and get going. We can make some big hits on our line’s part.
“I think it takes individuals to get ready. You can preach all you want about fast starts but you’ve got to be ready to go as individuals. I think that’s where it has to start with.”
Washington’s passing was on the sloppy side in the game’s first 20 minutes on Monday. Poor passing on Washington’s part was directly responsible for Edmonton’s first goal, the third goal in transition that the Capitals surrendered in the last two games.
“Watching the tape this morning,” says Caps coach Adam Oates, “it’s more execution. We met with some of the guys. Our passing, a little focus, that’s all. Guys were in position, guys were open, [we’re] putting it in their skates instead of on their tape. It just has to be a little bit of a mental focus.”
“Just be mentally ready,” echoes Chimera. “You’ve got to treat it like a playoff game. You’ve got to get into it right away. Teams are too good to wade into games now. They’re going to bury you; it’s going to be 2-0 or 3-0 before you shake your head. Each person has to be mentally ready.”
The Capitals have been outscored by a combined 9-4 in the first period of their six games this season.
With two games remaining on the homestand, the 2-4 Capitals have a chance to pull even before they head out on a season-long five-game road swing later this month. Right now, the only team in the Metropolitan Division with more wins than Washington is the Pittsburgh Penguins (5-1).
The last two teams into the District on the homestand – the Rangers and the Columbus Blue Jackets – are both Metropolitan foes. The Caps lost their only previous Metro game this season, a 3-2 decision to the Carolina Hurricanes last week.
Like the Oilers, the Rangers are in the midst of a lengthy road trip and they’ve been struggling to keep pucks out of their next in their first few games under a new head coach. Wednesday’s game against the Blueshirts is one in which the Caps would love to come out flying and get a jump on their new division rivals, giving them nothing to feel good about.
“Our game plan always is to come out fast,” says Caps defenseman John Carlson. “Especially at home, we’ve got to be able to come out fast. It gets deflating when you let in the first goal, especially at home. It’s important to us.”
Although the Caps didn’t play as well in the first period as they would have liked against Edmonton, they did do something they hadn’t done previously this season. Washington was able to extend a lead to more than one goal, and then maintain the advantage the rest of the way for its first regulation win of the season.
As a result, Oates was able to spread the ice time around a bit more evenly. Carlson led the Washington blueliners with 21:35, the lowest single-game leading figure for the Caps this season. Steve Oleksy was sixth in ice time among Washington’s six defensemen, and his total of 17:37 on the night was several minutes higher than the previous norm for the Capitals’ No. 6 rearguard.
The Caps’ fourth line was also able to get a bit more ice than it’s been accustomed to receiving.
“First off, winning is great,” says Carlson. “But it’s nice to get everyone in it. I think as a team we’re better when we’re rolling all of our lines through. And every line brings a little different look to the other team, and it’s hard to get used to playing against four completely different lines.”
Rookie defenseman Nate Schmidt, playing in just his second career NHL game, was able to log 19:13 on Monday, more than four minutes more than he skated in his Saturday debut against Colorado. Schmidt and Oleksy – himself a veteran of just 32 NHL contests – comprised the Caps’ third pair on Monday and both acquitted themselves quite well.
“Us getting a lead at home was huge,” says Schmidt. “It was just a matter of time to get our building into it. For me, I’m getting more comfortable out there with Stevie O. We’re communicating a lot, we’re making good, crisp passes in the defensive zone and trying to spend as little time as possible in our zone. I think the first game went pretty good, but [Monday’s] game was much better.
“I remember the first pass I made across to Steve O. in the [Colorado] game , it was across to Steve O. and it was kind of a bad pass. He told me, ‘You know, let’s just get pucks to the net.’ Last game, that was our goal, just to get pucks through. Our forwards, we’ve got some really skilled guys down there. It’s an advantage to us when we get pucks down low to them.”
With top four lefty defensemen Jack Hillen and John Erskine both on the sidelines, Washington has had – along with Alexander Urbom – three blueliners with fewer than 50 games worth of combined NHL experience in its lineup.
“I think that they’ve done a great job,” says Carlson of the trio of inexperienced defensemen. “I’ve really liked playing with Urby since Ersky is hurt. He has done a great job. And in the course of the game, I’ve been on with a few other guys, too.
“I think Schmitty is playing great hockey. He’s got a great shot. I think that once he gets a little more comfortable, you’re going to see him make a few more pinch plays. I think he’s a little bit shy to make a mistake, like I was, which is understandable. Once he gets used to it, I think he is going to be a dynamic play.”
Pinching and jumping into the play is part of what got Schmidt to the NHL in the first place, but he’s being a bit more cautious at this level so as to avoid mistakes until he is more accustomed to the pace.
“I think that comes with experience,” notes Schmidt. “If you go out there and try to be someone you’re not right away, you can get in trouble.
“I just want to feel it out, especially the first game, second game. I realize that it’s not about joining every rush or trying to lead the play as a defenseman, it’s more about being that secondary wave. [Mike Green] does it perfectly. He jumps into those little holes in the defense as a second wave all the time. That’s how he gets all those open shots.
“For me, just watching those guys do it is really a great experience. It’s second nature to them. For me, I’m learning every game. You can ask some of the other [defensemen], I’ll bet you I ask a thousand questions on the bench. But I’m really glad the guys have taken me in and shown me the ropes as much as they have.”
New York is playing each of its first nine games on the road this season while renovations to its Broadway home are completed. The Rangers also spent the last portion of the preseason on the road.
After suffering a 5-3 setback at the hands of the Blues in St. Louis on Saturday, the Rangers went home to enjoy a day off, do some laundry and hold a couple of practices near home. They also waived veteran goalie Martin Biron – the losing netminder in Saturday’s game – and forward Arron Asham.
Asham will likely report to AHL Hartford. For Biron, this could be the end of the line. The 36-year-old former first-rounder struggled in two outings this season, and the Rangers believe rookie Cam Talbot is ready to assume the role as backup to Henrik Lundqvist.
Speaking of Lundqvist, he has also struggled this season. He is 1-3 with a 4.21 GAA and an .887 save pct. in five games (four starts) this season. Lundqvist was also mediocre during the preseason, compiling an 0-4 record with a 4.13 GAA and an .859 save pct.
New York will be without left wing Rick Nash, who sustained a concussion in the Rangers’ loss to the Sharks in San Jose last week. Another top six forward, Carl Hagelin, is still recuperating from offseason shoulder surgery.
The Rangers’ first five games were all played against Western Conference opponents; the remainder of their epic road trip will be in the East. After taking on the Caps on Wednesday, the Rangers will visit New Jersey, Philadelphia and Detroit before finally hosting their home opener against Montreal on Oct. 28.