Caps-Rangers preview: Nah, Tom Wilson doesn’t matter

If anyone believes that the New York Rangers don’t care about Tom Wilson as they head into the season opener, there’s a bridge in Brooklyn for sale.   Sure, the company line has been that this is just another game, but they have to say that.   The implications for this game have been looming for months.

Coach Gerard Gallant spoke about the game, saying   “That’s behind us.  We’re ready to play a play a good hockey game. The comments made all summer, the anticipation. I don’t expect it…we’re gonna go play the game tomorrow night”

Then Gallant addressed the Wilson situation directly.   “If stuff happens, stuff happens.  I don’t think it’s got anything to do with the last incident.  We’re not planning on going to go out there and say if you have an opportunity  to run over Tom Wilson, run him over. That’s not going to be our objective.  Our objective is to win the hockey game.  We’re a different team. We know what we’ve got, were a more physical team now than we were in the past.  We want people to worry about us a little bit.”

“We’re not planning on going to go out there and say if you have an opportunity  to run over Tom Wilson, run him over. That’s not going to be our objective.”

Ryan Reaves also dismissed the premeditation factor. “It is just another game. I’ve gone through this many times in my career, played guys I’ve hated before..had rivalry games all the time so it’s just go about like I usually go about it.”

Okay, that’s fine, but what should we really expect?   First off, it’s very possible that Nils Lundkvist will not be in the lineup and Gallant will play Jarred Tinordi on the third pair with Patrik Nemeth, saying “Possible, it’s possible.  If  (Lundkvist) doesn’t play tomorrow he’ll get an opportunity to play. ”

Then, when Gallant was asked about using Tinordi and Reaves in this game he said “That’s what we signed them for. That’s what they came here for. They’re good hockey players,  they’re big strong guys.  I want teams to know they’re playing the Rangers now, it’s not the same team they had in the past, we’re a bigger, more physical team. When you have to use it, use it. Make it tougher for teams to play against us…it’s half the battle.”

Reaves also dropped the “it’s just another game” mantra when asked about what he anticipated. Reaves said “When you rebuild a team like this and that’s the emphasis in the off-season, you want to make sure you come out with that attitude. You don’t want to kind of  limp into the season and kind of build on the physicality and have to talk about it. You want it to be there from day one and be part of your identity for the rest of the year. Yeah, I expect it to be a physical game.”

Then he backed off just a bit, adding “But it’s not going to be any more physical from our team than any other games I think.. just happens to be game one against another physical team.”

So, will it be like the last game when both teams dropped the gloves at the opening faceoff and set an NHL record with six fights in the first five minutes?   Will Ryan Reaves, Jarred Tinordi,  Dryden Hunt or Sammy Blais go looking to target Tom Wilson with heavy hits until the Caps’ resident psychopath goes berserk?

It sure looks like it.

What the Capitals are saying

Washington coach Peter Laviolette also downplayed the possibility of any fireworks. “I’m sure it’s going to be a good division game.  There’s two points at stake. You never know how a game’s going to play out.”

Addressing the Wilson factor directly he said, “There’s lots of times where there’s a hype going into the game and the hype never happens. There’s lots of times when you don’t expect things, and things happen. The game will be played, and we’ll be ready for it.”

That said, the Capitals are not that physical a team outside of Wilson. They are certainly not fighters. The Caps had 18 fights last season with six of them coming in the May 5 game.  Of the 12 fights in other Capitals games, seven involved players no longer with the team.   Only Tom Wilson and Garnet Hathaway are left on the team as players who had fighting majors last season (not in that Ranger game).

About the game

Okay, enough about the possibility of a slugfest.   Some notes on the game.

  • Alex Ovechkin is iffy for the game tonight.  He suffered a lower body injury in an exhbition and was skating at practice on Tuesday, but he will be a game time decision.
  • The Capitals placed Nicklas Backstom on long term injured reserve and he will be replaced in the lineup by 19-year old Hendrix Lapierre.
  • For a comprehensive look at the Washington Capitals, check out Blue Line Station’s Met Division preview.  Click here.
  • It will be Adam Fox versus John Carlson in a meeting of two top blueliners.   Fox is the reigning Norris Trophy winner, while Carlson has more points than any other defenseman over the last four seasons.
  • Gallant refused to say who his starting goalie would be and said that he will never announce his starter the day before a game.  If it’s not Igor Shesterkin we will be very, very surprised.
  • The Capitals could have four rookies in the lineup tonight.  They are forwards Connor McMichael, Hendrix Lapierre, Beck Malynsten and defenseman Martin Fehervary.
  • If Nils Lundkvist does not play it will be the Rangers’ first season opener without a rookie in the lineup since 2003.
  • Despite missing practice Tuesday, Ryan Strome is expected to play as is Reaves.
  • This is the first road season opener for the Rangers since they beat the Blackhawks in 2015.  They’ve won their last two season debuts on the road.
  • The Rangers split their four games in Washington last season outscoring the Caps 12-9.

3 keys to winning

  1. Take advantage of a depleted Caps lineup – If Ovechkin does not play and with Backstrom out on LTIR, the Cap are missing some of their best firepower.  The Rangers needs to take advantage of that if they want to make the playoffs.   The Lightning did the Blueshirts no favors last night by letting the Penguins win despite missing Crosby, Malkin and Guentzel.
  2. Stay out of the penalty box – That’s asking a lot on Tom Wilson night, but the Rangers must remember that the Capitals had the third best power play in the NHL last season. Without Ovi and Backstrom, it won’t be as good but T.J. Oshie led the team with 13 power play goals so they are threat.
  3. Win the fourth line battle – The Capitals fourth line of Carl Hagelin, Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway is one of the best in the NHL.  They torched the Rangers for five goals and 13 points in eight games last season.  Kevin Rooney, Sammy Blais and Ryan Reaves need to outproduce them.

About the game

This will be the first hockey telecast in the history of TNT, the newest partner for the NHL.   Pregame coverage begins at 7pm with puck drop scheduled for 7:30pm.   It’s mostly a new crew for the pre and postgame analysis.  It will be hosted by Liam McHugh with analysts Wayne Gretzky, Anson Carter, Rick Tocchet and Paul Bissonette.

Play-by-play will be provided by Kenny Albert with two color analysts in Eddie Olczyk and (ugh) Keith Jones.

As usual, Blue Line Station’s live conversation will be active during the game, giving you an opportunity to comment about the game and share your thoughts about the team with your fellow Ranger fans.  The live thread should be up just before game time.