Photo: Will Newton/Getty Images
The Washington Capitals host the New York Rangers for the first meeting of the season between the two teams. The Capitals swept the season set with the Rangers a season ago, including a 6-5 overtime victory at home on February 24, and have gone 9-0-1 in their last 10 games against them since losing three consecutive games in regulation to the Blueshirts from 2016-2017. Action from Capital One Arena can be seen on NBC Sports Washington locally or NHL Network for those outside the DMV beginning at 7 PM ET.
After missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second consecutive season in 2018-19, the Rangers are off to a 3-2-0 start this year but have not had a busy schedule so far as they have had two breaks of six and four days, respectively. They play the second of a back-to-back on Friday after falling to the New Jersey Devils, who were winless up until the game, by a score of 5-2 at Prudential Center on Thursday.
Forward Mika Zibanejad leads the Rangers in goals (four), assists (four), points (eight), and plus-minus (+3 rating) in five games entering Friday’s tilt. He headed into Thursday’s slate of action leading the entire league in points-per-game average (2.67). The 26-year old led the Rangers in goals (30), assists (44), and points (74) a season ago too but had a -12 rating. He recorded back-to-back four-point performances to start the season.
The Rangers were among the busiest teams in the offseason, landing the best free agent on the market in forward Artemi Panarin, who has recorded two goals, four points, and an even rating in four games this season; defenseman Jacob Trouba, who has posted three assists, four points, and a +1 rating, in a trade that sent defenseman Neal Pionk and a 2019 first-round pick to the Winnipeg Jets; forward Kaapo Kakko, who has tallied a goal and a -1 rating in his first four NHL games, with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft; and defenseman Adam Fox, who has posted a +1 rating in four games this season, in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes. In addition to Pionk, the Rangers lost defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (buyout), forward Jimmy Vesey (traded to Buffalo Sabres), and defenseman Fredrik Claesson (signed with Hurricanes as an unrestricted free agent) over the offseason. They recently sent forward Vladislav Namestnikov to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for minor-league defenseman Nick Ebert and a 2021 fourth-round pick.
The Rangers’ average of 3.67 goals-per-game entering Thursday’s game at the Devils ranked ninth in the NHL while their 33.3% power-play efficiency heading into Thursday, when they went 0-for-6 on the man advantage, was third. Their 83.3% penalty-killing efficiency entering their game vs. the Devils was good to tie the Boston Bruins for 10th in the league. This is a Rangers team that struggles to generate shots on goal as their average of 27.7 shots-per-game entering Thursday were the fourth-lowest in the league. In addition, their average of 35.3 shots-against per game was the most. Their 54.5% faceoff-winning percentage heading into Thursday’s contest in Newark was second behind the Philadelphia Flyers (55.5%).
Since goaltender Alexandar Georgiev started against the Devils on Thursday, the Capitals will likely see Henrik Lundqvist, who is 1-1-0 with a .904 save percentage and a 3.53 goals-against average this season, in the New York net on Friday. The 37-year old has posted a 21-12-7 record, a .906 save percentage, a 2.77 goals-against average, and four shutouts in his career against the Capitals.
The Capitals close out a three-game homestand on Friday after earning their first home win of the season on Wednesday, when they beat the Toronto Maple Leafs by a score of 4-3. Even though they have just one win to show for their efforts, the Capitals have earned points in three out of four home games this season (1-1-2). The Capitals have also scored at least three goals in their last three home games and held the lead for a majority of three out of the four games that they have played at home.
Defenseman John Carlson‘s 11 assists are one behind Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid for the league lead and his 14 points are third in the NHL behind McDavid (17) and Oilers center Leon Draisaitl (15). He recorded a goal and three points against the Maple Leafs on Wednesday. The 29-year old is currently riding a five-game point streak, where he has recorded three goals and 11 points. Captain Alex Ovechkin’s five goals lead the team.
It is possible that the Capitals could get defenseman Michal Kempny, who has not played since March 20 and underwent hamstring surgery on April 2, back in the lineup against the Rangers as he has amped up the intensity level in practice the past couple of days and was held out against the Maple Leafs as a precaution. The 29-year old led the Capitals with a +24 rating and set career-highs in goals (six), assists (19), and points (25) in 71 games last season. It is unlikely that he will play on the top defensive pair with Carlson at least to start out with, though.
Adding Kempny instantly improves a penalty-killing unit that has been strong this season as it enters Friday’s game against the Rangers eighth in the NHL with an 84.6% efficiency and a defense that has given up the fewest shots per game in the league (27.8). Kempny’s return may also be coming at the right time. After the Capitals allowed only six goals in their first three games, they have allowed 20 in their last five and at least three goals in five of their last six games. Their 26 goals-against is currently the fifth-most in the NHL.
Goaltender Ilya Samsonov, who is 3-1-0 with a save percentage of .931 and a goals-against-average of 1.84 this season, is expected to get the nod against the Rangers on Friday for the first time in his career. He made 29 saves against the Maple Leafs on Wednesday.
- Center Nicklas Backstrom enters Friday two assists shy of passing Daniel Sedin (648) for the fifth-most assists all-time by a Swedish-born player
- Carlson became the third player in franchise history to record at least 14 points in the team’s first eight games of the season (Ovechkin: 2009-10, nine goals, 16 points; Alex Semin: 2008-09: seven goals, 14 points); additionally, Carlson is just the seventh different blueliner in NHL history to record at least 14 points through his team’s first eight games of any campaign and first in 30 years
- The Capitals have scored a goal in every second period this season, outscoring opponents 13-2, the highest second-period goal differential in the NHL
By Harrison Brown