Dec. 27 vs. New York Rangers at Verizon Center
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio Network
New York Rangers (18-18-2)
Washington Capitals (19-14-4)
After a three-day NHL break for the Christmas holiday, the Capitals conclude a three-game homestand with a Friday night contest against the New York Rangers at Verizon Center. The game pits a pair of Metropolitan Division foes who are meeting for the third of four times this season.
Behind the goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers blanked the Capitals on Verizon Center ice by a 2-0 score on Oct. 16. When the Caps paid their first visit to Manhattan this season on Dec. 8, they nearly returned the favor. Making his first start of the 2013-14 NHL season and just the second of his NHL career, Washington netminder Philipp Grubauer stopped 30 of the 31 shots he faced. Grubauer lost his shutout bid in the final few minutes of regulation, but his efforts helped the Caps to a 4-1 victory over the Blueshirts.
The Capitals won three of their first four games of December, but they’ve gone 2-2-2 in half a dozen games since. With three games remaining in calendar 2013, the Caps are 5-3-2 for the month.
Washington’s current homestand is its fourth this season of three games or more in length. The Caps have posted a combined record of 6-6-1 in those homestands of three or more games, and they’re 6-2 in the rest of their games in the District this season.
In each of the first two games of the current homestand, the Caps have squandered a two-goal lead en route to defeat. Washington owned a 4-2 lead over the Devils midway through the third period of Saturday’s game, only to surrender three unanswered goals to the Devils in a 5-4 overtime loss. Two nights later, the Caps’ 2-0 first-period lead over the Anaheim Ducks – the league’s best team – evaporated when the Ducks also tallied three unanswered goals in a 3-2 win over Washington.
Entering Friday’s game against the Rangers, the Caps hold second place in the Metropolitan Division. Washington is four points ahead of Philadelphia and the Rangers, the two teams tied for third in the division.
Four games shy of the season’s midpoint, the Caps have won one more game than they’ve lost this season (19-18). They’ve scored the exact same number of goals (112) as they’ve permitted. Offensively, that’s good. The Capitals are seventh in the NHL with 109 goals. But they’re 24th in goals against.
Washington has allowed exactly two even-strength goals per game (74 in 37 games), ranking just 23rd in the league in that department. None of the seven teams beneath them is currently in what would be a playoff position in the standings.
After allowing 38 goals in 15 games during the month of November, the Caps have already surrendered 33 goals in just 10 games in the month of December. Cutting goals and shots against would seem to be imperative for Washington as the team approaches the midpoint of the campaign.
Washington has averaged 29.6 shots on goal per game while permitting 35.1 per game. The Capitals’ minus-5.5 shot differential is its second worst mark in the last 16 seasons, which is how far back nhl.com has those numbers available. Only one Washington team in that time span had a worse shot differential. The 2003-04 Caps were dead last in the NHL with 23.7 shots on goal per game and they were 27th in the circuit with 31.5 shots permitted per contest for a differential of minus-7.8.
Only nine times in 37 games this season have the Capitals managed more shots on goal than their opponent. The Caps have had success in those rare occasions, going 6-2-1.
The Capitals’ puck-possession metrics also paint a grim picture. The Caps are 26th in the NHL in Corsi for percentage (46.5%) in 5-on-5 play with the score close. Washington is 27th in Fenwick for percentage (45.9%), also in 5-on-5 situations with the score close.
Despite some poor statistical measures, the Caps are 17-9-4 since their 2-5 start to the season. Fewer than half (nine of 19) of Washington’s wins this season were achieved in regulation and only once in 2013-14 have the Caps managed to win successive games in regulation (Dec. 7-8).
Since drawing his first start of the season against the Rangers in the aforementioned Dec. 8 game between the two teams, Grubauer has started five of Washington’s last eight games, winning three of them. He is 4-1-1 with a 2.20 GAA and a .934 save pct. since being recalled from AHL Hershey on Nov. 30.
New York started the season with nine straight road games, going 3-6 during that stretch. The Rangers just finished up a nine-game homestand that resulted in a mediocre 3-4-2 mark for New York. The Blueshirts went 3-1-1 in the last five games of the homestand and they hit the District having won each of their two previous games.
First-year backup goaltender Cam Talbot started and won for the Rangers in games on consecutive nights (Dec. 22-23) leading into the holiday break. In 12 appearances (10 starts) for the Rangers this season, Talbot is 8-2 with a 1.60 GAA and a .938 save pct. The last time a Rangers goaltender not named Henrik Lundqvist started more than 20 games in a season was in 2005-06, Lundqvist’s rookie season.
Although Lundqvist recently inked a lucrative seven-year contract extension, Talbot has started back-to-back games more than once this season. In eight December starts, Lundqvist is 2-4-2 with a 3.41 GAA and an .874 save pct.
Notes: Washington is 8-5-1 against Metropolitan Division foes this season while the Rangers are 5-6-2 … Friday’s game marks the 200th regular season meeting between the Caps and the Rangers. Only Pittsburgh (201) has been a more frequent regular season opponent for the Caps during Washington’s franchise history. The Caps are 93-82-18-6 all-time against the Rangers.