Dec. 8 vs. New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio Network
Washington Capitals (15-12-2)
New York Rangers (15-14-1)
Washington heads up to Manhattan on Sunday to finish up a set of back-to-back weekend games, taking on the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. This is the Capitals’ fourth set of back-to-backs in the last five weekends and their third straight weekend with contests on consecutive nights.
As it turns out, second place in the Metropolitan Division will be at stake in Sunday’s game. The Caps go into the contest with a one-point lead over New York. Front-running Pittsburgh is nine points clear of the Capitals.
The Capitals got the weekend off to a solid start with a convincing 5-2 home ice win over the Nashville Predators on Saturday night, Washington’s third win in its last four games.
Washington scored three times in the first period and got goals from five different players in its win over the Predators, the Caps’ third win in their last four games. Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby rebounded from a tough outing on Tuesday in a 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, stopping 34 of the 36 shots sent in his direction on Saturday against Nashville. Holtby earned his 13th win of the season and the 50th of his NHL career.
Getting off to a swift start and facing just one shorthanded mission – in the first five minutes of the game – in Saturday’s game enabled Caps coach Adam Oates to roll four lines and to spread the minutes around in the Nashville game. That should help keep the Caps fresher for their Sunday game against the Rangers.
“It’s pretty good,” says Caps defenseman Karl Alzner. “You couldn’t ask for much more than that. We’re happy about it. [Madison Square Garden] is a place where you need a lot of energy. The game was hard, but it wasn’t one of those ones that really grinds you down I don’t think. There wasn’t a ton to do for us on the [penalty kill] for us which was good; it keeps the minutes down. It’s as close to textbook as you can get for what you want on back-to-backs.”
The Capitals are making the first of their two visits to Broadway this season on Sunday. The Rangers visited Verizon Center early in the season, taking a 2-0 shutout win over the Capitals on Oct. 16. For New York netminder Henrik Lundqvist, that whitewash was the fourth of his NHL career against the Capitals. Among all active goaltenders in the NHL, only New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur has more career shutouts (six) against the Caps.
During the month of November, the Caps pulled at least a point from five of their six road games, going 3-1-2. The Capitals are 5-5-2 on the road thus far this season.
“Everyone always says you play a little bit different style on the road,” says Caps right wing Troy Brouwer. “It’s a little bit less flashy and a little bit more bump and grind to try to keep games close. Every building is tough to play in these days. We did really well in a few tough places; playing Winnipeg [more than] a month ago and getting a couple points there. The Detroit game is a big one that stands out in a very, very difficult building against a really good hockey team.
“We’ve shown a lot of good things on the road, a lot of determination. But there is one trend with those games, we seem to be coming from behind in every one of those games. We’ve got to try and make a habit of not letting that happen.”
With Michal Neuvirth ailing because of an injury sustained in warm-ups prior to the Nov. 29 game against Montreal, Holtby started both games of the Caps’ back-to-back set last weekend, winning in a shootout over the Habs on Friday and in overtime against the Islanders on Saturday. It’s possible that Holtby will get the net for Sunday’s game against the Rangers, but without a morning skate for the Capitals in Manhattan, there is no way of knowing for sure at this juncture.
The Rangers struggled out of the gates this season. Because of ongoing renovations to Madison Square Garden, the Blueshirts spent most of the first month of the season on the road. The Rangers’ Oct. 28 home opener was the latest for any team in the league, and a 2-0 loss to the Montreal Canadiens that night dropped the Blueshirts to 3-7 on the season.
As pretty much everyone expected, the Rangers have rallied since. They have lost as many as two consecutive contests only once in the last six weeks, moving into the upper levels of the Metropolitan Division standings in the process.
On Saturday night against the New Jersey Devils, the Rangers opened an historic nine-game homestand, the longest in the franchise’s lengthy and storied history. New York is home for three weeks straight, and it will host nine different foes in knocking off nearly a quarter of its home schedule in much the same fashion as it did with its road schedule in the first month of the campaign.
New York’s next road game is Dec. 27 against the Capitals in Washington.
The Rangers started off their lengthy homestand on Saturday with a 4-3 overtime loss to Metropolitan Division rival New Jersey. That game was just the second of 30 for the Rangers this season to go into overtime.
Lundqvist, who signed a seven-year contract extension earlier in the week, started on Saturday night against the Devils and is also expected to start on Sunday against Washington. Including last spring’s playoffs, Lundqvist has held Washington without a goal for 180 consecutive minutes heading into Sunday night’s game.
With a point in Saturday’s loss to the Devils, Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh has a six-game scoring streak in the works. According to Elias Sports Bureau, McDonagh’s streak is the longest by a Rangers’ defenseman since Brian Leetch in 2003-04.
With 19 points (six goals, 13 assists) in 19 games, McDonagh has matched his offensive output from last season when he scored 19 points (four goals, 15 assists) in 47 games.