To get the Rangers’ thoughts about tonight’s matchup click here.
Opponent Blog: Capitals Outsider
At the Verizon Center tonight (7:30 PM), it will be the East-leading New York Rangers facing off against the Washington Capitals. The Blueshirts come into tonight’s contest riding a five-game win streak and just five days away from the 2012 NHL Winter Classic.
In their only other matchup of the season, the Rangers defeated the Caps 6-3 in a game that saw rookie Carl Hagelin make his NHL debut (and notch an assist). A stat of note: since that game – which also saw the season debut of John Mitchell – the Rangers have gone 12-3-1 with both players playing in every game.
The Capitals come in 11th in the Eastern Conference and struggling to find their way under new head coach – and former Capitals player – Dale Hunter. Washington has lost its last two games and 5-4-1 in their last ten.
Pre-game notes and the keys to victory after the jump.
Injuries: Marc Staal (concussion), Michael Sauer (concussion), and Steve Eminger (shoulder) are all OUT for tonight’s game.
Healthy scratches: Tim Erixon, Wojtek Wolski, Sean Avery, and Erik Christensen
KEYS TO VICTORY
MATCH THE INTENSITY – The Capitals are coming off a two-game road trip in which they lost both games, giving up seven goals in the process. You’d better believe they’ll want to come out hot in order to grab the lead and get the home crowd behind them quickly. A smart road 1st period is in order.
CONTAIN OVECHKIN, BACKSTROM – Since their Nov 25th matchup, both Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom have been rather pedestrian considering their talents, tallying a combined 9 goals. There’s also a guy named Alex Semin, but he’s more enigmatic than Edward Nigma. Tonight, Girardi/McDonagh and Del Zotto/Stralman pairings must shut down the opposition. Containment also includes staying out of the penalty box.
RESPECT, BUT NOT TOO MUCH – Since Dale Hunter took over for Bruce Boudreau, the Capitals have gone 5-6-1, which is a worse record than the 12-9-1 Boudreau posted before being shown the door. The Caps are still trying to find their “identity” under Hunter, and seeing a rival Rangers team might give them an adrenaline boost. Respect the Caps, but don’t let play in awe of them; dictate the play.
CHALLENGE VOKOUN – When Tomas Vokoun signed a one-year deal on July 2, the Capitals envisioned a wonderful goaltending tandem with the experienced Vokoun playing in front of a quality team and mentoring youngster Michael Neuvirth. Instead, its all fallen in on them, as the Capitals rank 23rd with a 3.03 GAA. Test Vokoun, early and often.
** Prediction - The Capitals receive some inspired play from their captain Alex Ovechkin, scoring two goals in a 4-2 defeat over the Rangers in a close contest. Brian Boyle and Brad Richards score the goals for the Blueshirts.