Since the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals last met on December 27th, the two Metropolitan Division foes have gone in very different directions.
The Blueshirts, who at the time of the 3-2 loss were just beginning to pull themselves out of one of the darkest stretches of a season that's had a few of them, have found their comfort zone in Alain Vigneault's system and are 8-2-1 in the 11 games since than. Washington has gone in the other direction.
Since their win over the Rangers, the slumbering Caps are just 2-4-4, and were it not for their bizarrely high proclivity for getting to shootouts (they have 8 "losers' points" this season, and 8 of their 22 wins have come in the skills competition), Washington's playoff hopes would be in serious jeopardy. At the root of their problem: The Capitals have scored just 21 times in their recent 10-game stretch of futility.
But, alas, in no small part because of the extra point the NHL insists on handing out to losers, the Caps (22-18-8, 52 points) are just 3 points back of the Rangers (26-21-3, 55 points) for 3rd place in the Metropolitan, with 2 games in hand.
Washington is in the midst of a stretch of 8 of 9 on the road. The first two haven't gone well. The Caps blew a late lead against Pittsburgh and fell 4-3, and followed that up by laying a 5-1 egg against Columbus. Perhaps because of that last disaster, coach Adam Oates has tinkered with his lines, meaning the Rangers will face the reunited trio of Ovechkin-Backstrom-Johansson, and a second line featuring grinder Jason Chimera slotted with Mikhail Grabovski and Troy Brouwer.
In his ongoing goaltending carousel, Oates had tabbed Philipp Grubauer to start against the Blueshirts. The Caps out-of-nowhere apparent starter (14th start in the last 20 games) hasn't been the problem. The German rookie is 6-3-5 with a 2.22 GAA and .931 SV%, and has beaten the Rangers twice this year.
After Cam Talbot played yesterday, Grubauer will almost certainly be facing Henrik Lundqvist. The King has won 4 of his last 5 and has a .935 SV% since the calendar flipped from '13 to '14. He'll be tasked with trying to shut down Alex Ovechkin and his league-leading 34 goals. Rather remarkably, the Rangers have held the Russian sniper goalless in 9 straight meetings, and off the scoresheet altogether in 8 of those games.
With the Capitals struggling, you can expect their captain will come out looking to mimic the linebackers we'll all be watching on TV today, meaning the Rangers D will have to be on alert early.
It's the 4th and final meeting of the regular season between the two clubs (Rangers are 1-2), and the first of three in a row at home for the Blueshirts before heading outside for the pair of Stadium Series games. Puck drops at 7:30.
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