The New York Rangers will attempt to win the season series against the Capitals tonight at the Verizon Center in DC, and as has been status quo for this team, will have to do so with some star power missing. The Rangers have won two of the three meetings between these two teams this season, with the most recent being the shootout win in January. In that game, the Rangers were completely depleted to the point that Chad Kolarik was getting consistent power play time. Tonight, they do not have nearly as many injuries as that game, but what they’ve recovered in terms of depth has been matched, if not surpassed, by what they’ll be missing in top talent. Marian Gaborik is still recovering from his concussion, though the neurologist he visited cited no long term concerns, and the Rangers will be missing Marc Staal who tweaked his knee in the previous game in Carolina. Former Capital Steve Eminger will be inserted into the lineup again as a result. Let’s look at some game notes:
Henrik Lundqvist- As always, it starts and ends with Lundqvist, who will yet again be getting the start. Lundqvist’s last start again Washington was a relatively easy 7-0 shutout at Madison Square Garden. That was mostly an aberration, however, and usually Washington give the Rangers trouble in the defensive zone. The Rangers are almost always going to live and die by their goaltending against top offenses this season, but with Marc Staal out Lundqvist will have even more pressure to bail out his young and inexperienced defense.
Ryan McDonagh- Congratulations Ryan McDonagh. In the span of about 45 days you’ve gone from transitioning to the pro game in the AHL to being given the task to shut down Alexander Ovechkin. With Marc Staal out with a tweaked knee, John Tortorella has paired up McDonagh with Dan Girardi on the first pairing, which will almost definitely be matched up against Ovechkin and Backstrom the whole game. Surely Girardi will step up and take on some extra responsibility, but there is no coach in the world that can come up with a scheme to make up for Staal’s absence. This is the most important and telling game of McDonagh’s young career, and if he is able to at least contain arguably the best player in the world then the Rangers have a chance tonight. Again, though. McDonagh, regardless of how much he has progressed, is not and probably never will be as good as Marc Staal, so Girardi as well as the forwards on the ice are going to have to make that extra effort on the backcheck and in the defensive zone. If you look back at the playoff series in 2009 against Washington, where Marc Staal was nowhere near the player he was now, the Rangers were able to limit Ovechkin’s production to less harmful levels despite no all-star defenseman because of a great job by the forwards, and in particular Blair Betts and Freddie Sjostrom. A similar effort will be needed tonight from Brian Boyle, Brandon Prust, and Ruslan Fedotenko.
Ruslan Fedotenko- Of course he doesn’t undermine Gaborik’s and Staal’s absence, but a nice consolation prize is getting Fedotenko back in the lineup. Whether coincidence or not, the Rangers have slumped since Fedotenko got injured, which happened in the 7-0 shutout of Washington. Fedotenko will add a bid of offense on the bottom two lines but will mostly add some, as Tortorella would say, “jam.” Fedotenko has been great on the forecheck the whole season, especially when on a line with Boyle and Prust, which he will be tonight.
Forecheck- The Rangers, even with Gaborik and Staal in the lineup, are not nearly as skilled as Washington is. The way we beat them in Washington last time was with hard work and grit. The line of Grachev-Boyle-Prust forechecked hard, cycled the puck for lengthy shifts, and punished the Washington defense in the corners. Even with the addition of Scott Hannan, Washington is still generally soft, especially on defense. The Rangers need to get the puck into the zone and pressure Washington hard in their own end.
-Michael Neuvirth will be in goal for Washington. He won his only start against the Rangers in his career but let in 3 goals on 28 shots. Neuvirth is coming off a shutout against Pittsburgh on Monday.
-With McDonagh moving up to the first pairing in Staal’s place, Gilroy has been matched up with Michael Sauer on the second pairing with Eminger and Del Zotto completing the defense.
– Washington is still without former whipping boy Tom Poti as well as winger Eric Fehr.
– Game time is 7 ET on MSG2
– Make sure to head over to Capitals Outsider for their take on the matchup tonight. Quality stuff over there.