Jan. 19 vs. New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio Network
Washington Capitals (22-18-8)
New York Rangers (26-21-3)
Washington closes out a three-game Metropolitan Division road trip and its 2013-14 season series with the New York Rangers with a Sunday night visit to Madison Square Garden. The Caps will be seeking to salvage a point or two from a trip that began inauspiciously, with losses in Pittsburgh on Wednesday and Columbus on Friday.
The Capitals have been in a funk for more than a month, pulling enough points to tread water in the Metropolitan Division standings but unable to win with any level of consistency. The Caps have played 17 games since they last won as many as three games consecutively (Dec. 7-10), and they have won only five of those 17 contests (5-6-6).
Washington brings a four-game losing streak (0-2-2) into Sunday’s game with the Rangers; the Caps have had a pair of four-game skids – matching their longest losing run of the season – sandwiched around a pair of wins. They’re 2-4-4 in their last 10 games and five points behind their pace of last season.
On Friday night in Columbus, the Caps dug themselves an early 3-0 hole and were unable to recover, absorbing a 5-1 loss to the Blue Jackets.
“The good thing about hockey is that you’ve got another game to really prove yourself," says Caps left wing Jason Chimera. “If you’re a pro, you don’t have back-to-back bad games. You’ve got to let the one go and just move on from there.
“Guys were in pretty good spirits [at Saturday’s practice in Columbus]. We know it was pretty terrible [Friday] night. It was one of those games where nothing really went well. Passes were bad, we didn’t hit anybody and it was just one of those games that no one was into. You’ve got to throw it away and get right back at it against New York. You have no time to pout about it; you got to get going and you’ve got to get back on the horse against New York.”
For the first time in his brief NHL career, rookie Caps goalie Philipp Grubauer was pulled from the crease in the game against Columbus, and he did not finish.
Caps coach Adam Oates went to the bullpen for Braden Holtby after Grubauer allowed three goals on 14 shots in 21:44 of work. Asked after the game why we made the switch, Oates was candid.
“Because I felt sorry for [Grubauer],” declared the Washington bench boss. “That’s not on him, that’s on all of us.”
Holtby has been pulled from a few games in similar situations this season, games in which he was let down by the defensive support system in front of him. Holtby stopped 20 of the 22 shots he faced in his first taste of game action in 13 days. He surrendered one power-play goal and another that came just three seconds after the expiration of a Blue Jackets power play.
The Caps have taken two of their three previous meetings with the Blueshirts this season and they won 4-1 here on Dec. 8 in their prior trip to Manhattan in 2012-13. Grubauer earned his first NHL win in that game.
“Another important game,” notes Oates of Sunday’s tilt. “We’ve got to turn the page and focus and play like we did the last time in there. When we were there [in December the Rangers] had that big homestand and I know they struggled early in it but afterwards they did better and it probably got them on a little roll.
“They’re feeling good about themselves and that’s the nature of the game. You go on rolls. Anaheim won [17 of 18] and they lost last night. So what happens now? You’ve got to be pros about it; that’s what we always talk about.”
It’s been a month since the Rangers lost consecutive games and a three-game drought from Dec. 8-12 was the last time New York went more than one game without getting at least a point. The Blueshirts last pair of consecutive setbacks came on Dec. 18 (a 4-3 shootout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins) and Dec. 20 (a 5-3 loss to the New York Islanders).
New York is 10-3-1 since its last set of back-to-back setbacks. Pulling a steady diet of points, the Rangers have climbed past the Capitals in the Metropolitan Division standings.
When Washington took a 3-2 victory in the most recent meeting between the two teams at Verizon Center on Dec. 27, it left the Capitals with a six-point lead on the Rangers in the Metropolitan Division. After New York’s 4-1 road win over the Ottawa Senators on Saturday afternoon, the Rangers are now three points ahead of Washington in the Metro. That’s a nine-point swing in a span of just 22 days.
The Capitals are now three points shy of second place in the Metro, and they are only seven points north of the basement in the divisional standings. The New York Islanders are the current cellar occupants in the Metro, and the Isles have the ability to creep a point or two closer to the Capitals pending the outcome of their Saturday night game against the Flyers in Philadelphia.
“Our division is really heating up right now,” says Caps forward Eric Fehr. “The Flyers, the Rangers and Columbus aren’t losing a lot of games right now. So we’ve got to try to keep pace. I think we’re on the right track and we’re doing the right things. We’ve had some success in their building. We’ve just got to play the same style we played in there last time. That’s all you can do, stick to your own plan and don’t worry too much about the other team and hope that things go in for you.”
As was the case on Friday night when the Caps took on the Blue Jackets, they’re a chilly team taking on a hot one in Sunday’s match-up with the Rangers. New York has won five of its last six games, as had the Jackets going into Friday’s contest.
New York has surrendered only eight goals in its last six games, and only five of those tallies were scored at even strength. Veteran Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist struggled out of the gates this season, but he has found his footing recently. Lundqvist is 6-2-1 in his last nine starts with a 2.08 GAA and a .935 save pct. He whitewashed the Detroit Red Wings on 38 shots in his most recent starting assignment on Thursday at Madison Square Garden.