The Washington Capitals and the New York Rangers face off for the second time this season Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden in New York. The game can be seen on NBC Sports Network at 8:00 PM. The Capitals defeated the Rangers by a 4-2 final the first time these two teams met on December 8 at Capital One Arena, and have won three out of their last four games at Madison Square Garden. Here are the storylines going into the Wednesday Night Rivalry Game:
1. Metropolitan Division Clash
The Capitals and Rangers headed into the holiday break separated by a mere four points in the Metropolitan Division standings, with the Rangers holding one game in hand on the Capitals. Nine points separate the Philadelphia Flyers (the worst team in the division) and the New Jersey Devils (the best team in the division).
Any four-point game, especially when it’s involving the Metropolitan Division, is big.
Washington enters play on Wednesday tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have played the same number of games as the Capitals, just a single point behind the Devils. The Devils have a game in hand on the Capitals and Blue Jackets.
2. Battle of the Backups
Grubauer carries a three-game point streak into tonight’s game but stopped 90 of the 95 shots he’s faced in his past four games, good for a .947 save percentage. He is 2-5-2 on the season with a .898 save percentage and a 2.98 goals against average. He stopped 24 out of the 27 shots he faced in Arizona last Friday. Lifetime against the Blueshirts, he is 2-2-0 with a 2.20 GAA and a .933 save percentage. His first career win came at Madison Square Garden on December 8, 2013.
Ondrej Pavelec will start for the Rangers. He is 2-4-1 this season with a .914 save percentage and a 3.04 goals against average. Despite the poor numbers, Pavelec has made 85 saves on his last 89 shots. He is 10-15-2 in 29 career games against Washington with a 2.89 goals against average and a .907 save percentage.
3. Bright Lights, Big City
Alex Ovechkin shines against the Rangers — particularly at Madison Square Garden. In his career against the Blueshirts, he has 29 goals and 46 points in 49 career games. He has scored 22 goals against “The King” in his career, marking the most goals he has scored against a goalie. In the most recent playoff series between the two teams, Ovechkin scored three goals in seven games.
Ovechkin was held without a point on the Capitals’ three-game road trip prior to the Christmas break, but he always shines on the biggest stages.
Ovechkin is tied with Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning for the league-lead in goals with 23 on the season.
The New Rochelle native signed a four-year contract worth $26.6 million ($6.65 million) on July 1 with the Rangers, the team he grew up cheering up for. Shattenkirk will face his former team for the second time, the first time at home.
He played his first game with the Capitals at Madison Square Garden on February 28, a 4-1 Capitals victory.
He has five goals and 22 points in his first 36 games with his new team. Half of his points have come on the power play. Shattenkirk has not been as strong defensively with a -6 rating.
After getting acquired by Washington at the trade deadline from the St. Louis Blues, he had two goals and 14 points in 19 games but struggled in the playoffs, especially against the Maple Leafs in the first round. Despite scoring a huge goal for the Capitals in overtime to win Game 3 at PPG Paints Arena against the Pittsburgh Penguins, he was a -4 in the playoffs.
Last time the Capitals and Rangers faced off, Barry Trotz criticized the defenseman when asked about his time in Washington saying “Many people thought of him as a 1-2 d and he really wasn’t.” Trotz later apologized to Shattenkirk, saying his comments didn’t accurately convey what he meant to say.
5. Holiday Hangover?
Neither team has been on the ice since Wednesday, but the break may have been timely for both clubs.
Despite going into the break 7-2-1 in their last 10 games, Washington lost two straight against Arizona and Vegas. The Capitals held a 2-1 lead on the Coyotes at Gila River Arena in the third period but gave up a goal with a bit more than a minute left to send it to overtime. Rookie sensation Clayton Keller won the game for the Yotes in the final frame, ending the Caps’ four-game winning streak. That carried over to Saturday as the Golden Knights ran circles around the Capitals in the first period and came out of it with a 3-0 win. The break may have been good timing for the Capitals as they try to reset on Wednesday.
The Rangers will have family in town as they host the Buffalo Sabres in the Winter Classic on Monday afternoon at Citi Field. They are 5-3-2 in their last 10 games and came into the break on the heels of two straight losses like the Capitals. Before dropping Saturday’s game to Toronto, they fell to the Devils 4-3 in a shootout across the river at Prudential Center.
By Harrison Brown