The Washington Capitals are officially hot after defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 on Thursday night. Winners of three in a row after starting the season 2-8-1, the Capitals head into Madison Square Garden in an hour to face the New York Rangers for the first time since last May when the Rangers ousted the Caps in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series between the two teams.
The Capitals are also looking to accomplish a feat that has not been done since the turn of the millennium in Washington. Not since sweeping a three-game trip that took them to Montreal, Long Island and Tampa Bay from Feb. 26-March 1, 2000,(58 separate road trips of three or more games) have the Caps swept a road trip of that length. They can match that feat with win in Manhattan today.
Washington last won three consecutive road games just under a year ago, from Feb. 25-March 13, 2012 when they won games in Toronto, Boston and Long Island. However, those three consecutive road triumphs were part of three different trips with handfuls of home games in between.
After starting the week ranked dead last in the Hockey News Weekly Power Poll, Washington won three straight vs. the Sunshine State with two straight wins over the Florida Panthers before beating the Bolts to earn their second road win of the season. The first win over Florida came at home.
CAPS GETTING COMFORTABLE IN OATES SYSTEM:
The latest Caps victory was telling on several fronts for the previously struggling Capitals. Entering play last Saturday night, the Capitals had yet to score more than three goals until they shutout the Florida Panthers 5-0 at home. Washington now has 15 lamplighters during the three game winning streak and during the 6-5 win on Tuesday night, six different Capitals players found the back of the net.
It showed that their belief in head coach Adam Oates system is a disciplined belief and that if executed properly, would allow opportunities for every player to produce points when called upon. Eric Fehr continued his hot hand by scoring a pair of goals and Mathieu Perreault had three assists for the first time in his NHL career.
Troy Brouwer has four goals in his last three games and leads Washington with seven goals. Aside from playing great on special teams recently, another telling sign that the Caps are becoming more and more comfortable in Oates’ system is the amount of shots they are taking and who is taking them.
All 18 Washington skaters had at least one shot on goal in Thursday’s game, and the Caps finished the night with 39, a single-game high this season. Washington had gone seven straight games without as many as 30 shots on net. To an NHL player, shooting the puck should come as natural as, chewing gum or walking is to you and me. However, when a player is thinking too much and most do in new systems as they learn them-- they tend to miss opportunities to fire the rubber.
Through the first 14 games this season, 21 different players have tallied points for the Capitals, while 16 players have scored goals for the Capitals. Eight of the nine Capitals defenseman to appear in games this season have tallied points and the Capitals are one of just five teams in the league that boast four, five-goal scorers on their roster (as of Saturday).
Speaking of Fehr, his first goal was the 50th goal and the 100th point of his NHL career. Fehr’s two-goal game was the fourth two-goal game of his career and his first since March 9, 2011, against Edmonton. Fehr’s three goals, two assists and five points have all eclipsed his scoring totals from last season and he carries a three-game point streak into tonight’s game (3g-2a).
Fehr, a former first round selection (18th overall) of the Capitals in the 2003 entry draft seems to be rounding into form nicely. His hands and release appeared quick and he was well positioned on both shots, his only two of the night.
Although he is averaging just 9:15 of per game ice time, his last two games saw four-minute increases over his season average. He played 13:17 on 17 shifts in Tampa and 13:01 in South Florida last Tuesday night, as he scored the first of three straight goals that helped propel Washington to victory late in the contest.
BECOMING A FIXTURE BETWEEN THE PIPES:
Braden Holtby looked a little more like the goalie we all fell in love with during the playoffs last season as he made 27 saves to earn his fourth victory of the season. Braden Holtby (4-4-0, 3.89, .877) was pretty good in the first two periods but allowed a bad-angle shot by Teddy Purcell skip through his pads and made a bad decision to poke-check Nate Thompson’s breakaway goal.
SPECIAL TEAMS THE KEY TO RECENT SUCCESS:
The Caps continue to improve on special teams after a crippling start to the season. Again, they won the special team’s battle during the past three victories. Thanks to Troy Brouwer, the Caps kept alive their impressive power play goal-scoring streak, as the former Blackhawk opened the scoring for Washington on Thursday with an extra man tally, the Caps lone man-advantage opportunity of the game.
The Brouwer power-play goal gave the Caps a sixth straight game with at least one power-play goal for the first time in nearly three years. The last time the Caps strung together as many as six straight games with an extra-man strike was a seven-game stretch from March 6-18, 2010.
Puck movement has been crucial to the Caps extra man success and Brouwer’s goal was no exception. The shot came on a one-timer from the slot after a series of crisp passes to set it up, the last of those a perfect feed from Perreault at the goal line. It looks as though Adam Oates is taking advantage of every practice second he gets with his team and the results are starting to show up.
The Capitals are 11-for-31 (35.5%) on the power play since starting the 2012-13 season by going 2-for-17 with the extra man in their first three-plus games. In their last three games, the Capitals have scored four power-play goals and have done so with just five power-play shots on goal for a lusty shooting pct. of 80%.
The Caps, who struggled mightily on special teams and especially on the penalty kill to start the season, have now begun to kill penalties as they did at successful times during parts of the past two seasons. Washington has now gone three straight games without allowing a power-play goal for the first time this season and for the first time since a six-game run from March 22-31, of last season.
The Caps’ power play unit is now ranked fourth in the NHL with a 27.1% success rate. Washington’s penalty killers are now at 75% on the season, 24th in the NHL.
THE BIG BAD BLUESHIRTS ON TODAY’S MENU:
Despite winning three in a row, Washington still resides in the basement of the Eastern Conference standings, tied with Winnipeg, Florida and the New York Islanders for that spot. That is the bad news. The good news is that the Capitals are only four points behind the eight and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, which is currently held by-------The New York Rangers (7-5-1), who have 15-points.
Not off to the kind of start head coach John Tortorella was hoping for is it now. The team that many predicted would win the Stanley Cup is once again finding it a tough chore to put the biscuit in the basket on a consistent basis.
The Rangers are 5-2-1 at the Garden this season but the real issue for the Blueshirts this season may be the competition within their own division. Because of the shortened season, teams are playing many of their games inside of their divisions and two of the leagues four best teams are ahead of the Rangers in the Atlantic. Both teams are bitter rivals to the Rangers defiant and mouthy head coach. With 21-points, the defending Eastern Conference champion, New Jersey Devils lead the Atlantic with the healthy Pittsburgh Penguins sitting in second place one point behind them but still five ahead of the Rangers.
Still yet, the Rangers could just be rounding into form. Since starting the season with two straight losses, the Rangers are 7-3-1 in their last 11 games. The Rangers are 3-0-1 in their last four games and 6-2-1 in their last nine. New York’s three-game winning streak came to a screeching halt on Thursday when it suffered a 4-3 shootout loss to the Islanders at Madison Square Garden.
This was an especially tough loss for the Rangers because it was the second time in as many games that New York coughed up a late lead. New York led the Bruins 3-0 in the third period in Boston on Tuesday night, and held on for a 4-3 shootout win in the end. Two nights later in their own building, the Rangers blew a two-goal lead against the rival Islanders and they were forced to settle for a single point instead of a pair.
New York was a perfect 7-for-7 on the penalty kill in its season opener against Boston. Then the Rangers went through a stretch in which they allowed at least one power-play goal in eight straight games. The Blueshirts were 25-for-34 (73.5%) on the kill in those eight games, and they went 4-4 in those contests.
The Rangers have looked like the Rangers on their penalty kill in the last four games, successfully killing 12 shorthanded situations. New York is 3-0-1 in those four spotless penalty-killing contests.
New York is just 5-for-48 (10.4%) on the power play this season. The Rangers have yet to score more than one power-play goal in any game and they have yet to score an extra-man tally in consecutive games this season. The Caps hope to continue that trend today, as the Rangers were 1-for-4 with the extra man in Thursday night’s setback against the Islanders.
Having faced the Rangers in the playoffs in each of the last two springs, the Caps are know the Rangers and know what the ice surface at Madison Square Garden can bring. But the Caps have had success inside the historic venue. The Capitals are 11-5-2 in their last 18 regular-season games against the Rangers and have gone 5-2-1 in their last eight games at Madison Square Garden.
John Carlson led all Capitals players in points against the Rangers last season, posting three goals and three assists in four games against New York.
The Rangers were 2-2-0 overall (1-1-0 at home; 1-1-0 on the road) against Washington in the 2011-12 regular season, outshooting the Capitals, 129-87, including a 47-24 advantage in the third period.
Ryan Callahan led the team with four assists and five points in the season series, while Brian Boyle and Ruslan Fedotenko tied for the team-high with two goals. Henrik Lundqvist was 2-1-0 with a 3.00 GAA, and Martin Biron was 0-1-0 with a 4.01 GAA. Washington has dropped five of their last seven regular-season games against the Rangers, with New York outscoring Washington, 26-14, over the span. The Rangers are 2-0-0 vs. the Southeast Division this season; the Capitals are 1-2-1 vs. the Atlantic Division this season. New York lists two former Capitals on its roster: Steve Eminger (2002-03 to 2007-08); Jeff Halpern (1999-00 to 2005-06; 2011-12). Washington lists two former Rangers on its roster: Tom Poti (2001-02 to 2005-06); Wojtek Wolski (2010-11 to 2011-12).
Capitals' defenseman Mike Green left Saturday’s practice early with a lower body injury and will not play tonight, according to Capitals coach Adam Oates. Tom Poti will replace Green in the lineup and be paired with Karl Alzner on the blue line. Green, who is sixth among NHL players in average ice time (26:33), appeared to suffer in the injury late in the Capitals’ 4-3 win in Tampa Thursday night. He participated in practice on Saturday but left the ice after about 15 minutes.
The Rangers have registered at least a point in every game when scoring the first goal this season, posting a record of 5-0-1 in those contests, compared to 2-5-0 when allowing the game's first goal. The Blueshirts have posted a 5-0-1 mark when leading after the first period, and are 5-0-0 when leading after the second period.
The Blueshirts have posted a record of 4-1-1 when out-shooting their opponents, which is tied for eighth in the NHL. The Rangers are 3-4-0 when being out-shot by their opponent.
A BROADWAY HIT
The Rangers rank third in the NHL in hits (388) this season, led by Captain Ryan Callahan who is tied for 10th in the league with 43 hits. Brian Boyle ranks second on the team and is tied for 16th in the NHL with 41 hits, while Marc Staal leads all Rangers defensemen and is tied for eighth among NHL blueliners with 36 hits.
The Blueshirts have had eight players make their Rangers debut this season –Jeff Halpern, Rick Nash, Taylor Pyatt, Brandon Segal, Arron Asham, Benn Ferriero, Darroll Powe and J.T. Miller.
THE HOT LIST:
Henrik Lundqvist —is 6-3-0 with a 2.10 GAA and a .922 save percentage in his last nine games; has held opponents to two goals or less in five of his last eight games (5-3-0, 1.99 GAA, .926 Save percentage over the span)
Carl Hagelin —enters the contest with a three-game point streak (four goals, two assists over the span), including a career-high, three-game goal streak, and has tallied eight points (five goals, three assists) in the last six games
Dan Girardi — enters the contest with a career-high-tying, three-game point streak (one goal, three assists over the span)
Rick Nash —enters the contest with a three-game point streak (one goal, three assists over the span), including a three-game assist streak
Marc Staal —four assists in the last four games
Ryan McDonagh — three points (one goal, two assists) in the last four games
Marian Gaborik — 10 points (seven goals, three assists) in eight home games
CAPITALS GAME NOTES:
Mike Ribeiro collected a goal and two assists on Feb. 12 at Florida, giving him 17 points this season. He leads Washington in assists and points and has recorded six multi-point games this season. He tallied 13 multi-point games last season.
Braden Holtby recorded his fourth career shutout on Feb. 9 vs. Florida. He also assisted on Troy Brouwer’s power-play tally for his second career assist. His last helper, also on the power play, came on 3/15/11 at Montreal. Prior to Feb. 9, the last time a Washington goaltender contributed a power-play assist was Tomas Vokoun on 12/30/11 vs. Buffalo.
Alex Ovechkin scored the game-winning goal on Jan. 27 against Buffalo, his 56th career game-winning tally. Ovechkin currently ranks second all-time in Capitals history in game-winning goals, trailing only Peter Bondra (73) and ranks 18th among all active NHL players in game-winners.
Roman Hamrlik currently leads all active NHL players in career games played, having appeared in 1,383 games dating back to the 1992-93 season, and ranks third in goals, assists and points among active NHL defensemen.
Thursday’s win marked the fifth straight road game in which Washington has scored the game’s first goal. The Caps are now 2-3 in those contests. In fact, Thursday’s also game marked the third consecutive contest in which a Capital scored his first goal of the season. Mathieu Perreault notched his first on Saturday against Florida. Fehr and Karl Alzner each scored their first goal of the season on Tuesday against the Panthers, and Beagle netted his first of the season in Thursday’s win over the Lightning.
According to Chuck Gormley of Comcast Sports Net, the Caps will be without defenseman Mike Green tonight in New York with what the club is calling a lower body injury. Tom Poti will replace Green in the lineup and is expected to be paired with Karl Alzner. Green, who is sixth among NHL players in average ice time (26:33), appeared to suffer the injury late in the Capitals’ 4-3 win in Tampa Thursday night.
Green participated in practice on Saturday but left the ice after about 15 minutes. With a three-day break in the schedule following tonight's game, the Caps are hoping Green can return to the lineup Thursday night when the New Jersey Devils visit Verizon Center.
Last season Green underwent sports hernia surgery that sidelined him for much of the 50 games he sat out. Right wing Joel Ward also did not participate in Sunday’s optional skate but he is expected to be in the lineup against the Rangers.
Washington is expected to go with Braden Holtby (4-4-0, 3.90, .877), while the Rangers are expected to start Henrik Lundqvist (6-5-0, 2.48, .912). While the Rangers net minder is playing well, he does not have the invincible looking numbers we are used to seeing from King Henrik.
These same two back stoppers faced each other in last year’s second-round playoff series, won by the Rangers in seven games. “It was a great series,” Holtby recalled. “The way we played, blocking shots, the energy in the buildings. But what I remember most is losing there [in Game 7]. We’ve got to make sure we do better.”
WHAT TO EXPECT:
Under Adam Oates, the Capitals play an aggressive, attacking system based on puck movement and possession. Under John Tortorella, the Rangers play a more passive, counter-attacking style based on blocking shots.
“That’s the system he plays and he has his reasons for it,” Oates said. “It kind of doesn’t matter to me. We’re going to play the way we play.”
Look for Washington’s road (2) and overall winning (3)streak to end right here at MSG. Although it will not be nearly as bad when they lost, 7-0 there a few years ago during an early Sunday evening start, the Caps are still learning and the Rangers are considered Cup contenders. They will be playing hard after blowing a 2-0 lead and losing at home to the Islanders a few nights back and they could take it out on Washington. Rangers 4 Capitals 2