Rangers look to rebound versus Capitals


Game Preview: Capitals vs Rangers, MSG 2 PM

The Rangers look for a quick turnaround thus afternoon when they host the Capitals at MSG. The game begins at 2 PM on MSG and NHL Network for those without blackout restrictions.

They were shutout 4-0 by the Flyers yesterday afternoon. Calvin Pickard stopped all 31 shots as Philadelphia took it to a lethargic Blueshirts, who never were in sync on Black Friday. They were a step slow and made more puck decisions that forced Henrik Lundqvist (42 saves) to come up with big stops on odd-man rushes. He kept them in the game as long as possible until Sean Couturier scored the key insurance marker to put it away.

Coach David Quinn refered to the game as a stinker. Like he said, you’re going to have your stinkers. This was one to forget. In losing, they dropped to 12-9-2 in 23 games. With both the Blue Jackets and Caps winning last night, they’re third in the Metro Division with 26 points. Columbus leads it with 28 while Washington is second with 27 following a third consecutive win. In fact, seven total points separates the entire division. All eight teams are NHL .500.

Since Tom Wilson returned, the Caps have been playing better. He is becoming a good scorer while being the complement on Alexander Ovechkin’s line. So far, the controversial winger has eight points (3-5-8) in six games with seven penalty minutes. Even minus top center Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie, the Caps are a better team with Wilson in the lineup. He brings that missing edge.

Nicklas Backstrom must still be accounted for. He scored an overtime winner in a recent win over Colorado on a four-on-three power play. Trailing only Ovechkin in points with 25, the playmaking pivot is having another good season. His 19 assists lead the team. Ovechkin paces them in goals (16), power play goals (7) and points (26).

John Carlson is over a point-per-game with 22 points (5-17-22) in 21 contests. Always dangerous, the New Jersey native can do damage from the point at even strength and the power play. He has a superb shot and can switch spots with Ovechkin on the man-advantage. But most of the time, beware of Ovechkin in his office. Time and space must be taken away. He and Lundqvist have a unique rivalry that’s lasted since both entered the league as rookies in ’05-06. It’s always fun to watch them.

However, that’s on the back burner with Quinn going back to rookie backup Alexandar Georgiev in the back-to-back today. Hopefully, he’s up to the difficult challenge. He recorded his first career shutout in a win over the Islanders on Wednesday with 29 saves.

Rookie Tim Gettinger makes his NHL debut today for the Blueshirts. He was recalled from Hartford last night. In 20 games with the Wolf Pack, he has seven goals and four assists. It’s the first pro season for the 20-year old from Cleveland. A former fifth round pick taken number 141 in 2016, thus is a big day for him. A huge deal too because they think he can contribute on the fourth line in place of Mats Zuccarello, who is getting the day off following his return yesterday. You wonder how healthy he is. This will be the seventh game he’s missed in nine.

Even though they’re without two of their best players in Kuznetsov and Oshie, Washington has been getting contributions throughout their lineup from secondary scorers Lars Eller, Devante Smith-Pelly and Dmitry Orlov. They aren’t as deep obviously, but are finding ways to win lately. In spite of inconsistent goaltending from starter Braden Holtby and backup Pheonix Copley, they’re 12-7-3 with a goal differential of plus-five. The Rangers have a goal differential of minus-one.

Keep an eye on Jakub Vrana. A slippery player, he’s capable of contributing. He and Brett Connolly are key depth scorers on the Caps. Michael Kempny can also step up from the blueline.

On paper, this is a winnable game. Even with the Caps playing better, they’re thin minus Kuznetsov and Oshie. Contain the top line and keep them off the power play, and you have a good chance of winning. It’s easier said than done against the ever dangerous Ovechkin with Backstrom and Wilson along with rover Carlson.

The Rangers need a much better effort. Better puck management for starters. There were way too many turnovers that fueled a relentless Flyers attack. A sustained forecheck that keeps Washington on the defensive. That’s the best way to limit their star talent. Playing them five-on-five helps too as long as they don’t get pinned in.

I’ll be interested to see how they respond. Mika Zibanejad has not been as effective since Pavel Buchnevich went down. He lost Chris Kreider to the Kevin Hayes unit which right now is the team’s most effective. Filip Chytil gives them a dynamic trio that can all skate, make plays and create chances. Zibanejad is left with interchangeable parts Jesper Fast and Vladislav Namestnikov, who’s been an effective player.

Does Quinn adjust anything on the Zibanejad or Brett Howden line? The fourth line is likely to be Lias Andersson, Steven Fogarty and Gettinger. I guess that depends on who’s going well between Jimmy Vesey, Ryan Strome, Fast and Namestnikov. I wouldn’t mind seeing what Strome can do with Zibanejad, shifting Fast back to Howden and Vesey. That would give Zibanejad better skill typed in Namestnikov and Strome.

As for the D, I’m not sure that gets changed off one bad game. I guess it depends on Quinn.

Faceoff is in an hour.

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About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included two stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil games. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has scored Berkeley Carroll basketball games since 2006 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. From players, coaches to administrators, it's a first class program. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree.
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