Photo: Jared Silber/Getty Images
The Washington Capitals will take on the New York Rangers for the first of eight meetings between the team on Thursday night. The Rangers won two of three games against the Capitals last season, including both in the Big Apple, one of which was a 6-5 overtime thriller on March 5. Action from Madison Square Garden can be seen on NBC Sports Washington locally or NHL Network nationally beginning at 7 PM ET.
The Capitals head out for their lone road game in a span of nine overall after going 4-1-1 on a six-game homestand. They have earned six out of a possible eight points away from Capital One Arena this season but lost both of their last two road games in overtime to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Capitals were a league-best 23-10-3 on the road last season.
After opening the season on a nine-game point streak (6-0-3), the Capitals fell to the Boston Bruins in their first regulation loss of the season on Monday despite building a 3-0 lead midway through the game and taking a 3-1 edge into the third period. The Capitals also blew a 3-0 lead in Saturday’s game vs. the Bruins but won 4-3 in overtime. They enter Wednesday’s slate of NHL action tied with the Philadelphia Flyers for first in the East Division and are one point ahead of the Bruins. The Bruins and Flyers begin a two-game series against each other on Wednesday in Philadelphia.
Center Evgeny Kuznetsov (COVID-19 protocol), goaltender Ilya Samsonov (COVID-19 protocol), defenseman Justin Schultz (upper-body injury), center Lars Eller (upper-body), and forward Conor Sheary (lower-body) missed practice with the Capitals on Wednesday and are all labeled day-to-day. Kuznetsov and Samsonov have not been with the team for six games, Eller three, Schultz two, and Sheary was injured in Monday’s loss. It appears that Daniel Carr, who has earned an assist in two games this season, will replace Sheary.
Center Nicklas Backstrom leads the Capitals in goals (five), assists (eight), and points (13) entering Thursday’s game at Madison Square Garden. He saw a five-game point streak, where he earned three goals and nine points, end on Monday. The 33-year-old has gotten on the scoresheet in all but two of the team’s first 10 games. Defenseman John Carlson is running hot with three goals and nine points during a seven-game point streak.
The Capitals’ average of 3.7 goals-per-game this season trails only the Montreal Canadiens (4.4) and Dallas Stars (4.14) but their average of 3.2 goals-against per game is the ninth-highest in the NHL entering Wednesday. Their 40.9% power-play efficiency is better than everyone other than the Toronto Maple Leafs (43.3%) but their 77.8% penalty-killing rate is tied with the New York Islanders for 21st. The Capitals’ averages of 27 shots-per-game and 32.9 shots-against per game both rank 27th in the NHL. Their 45.9% faceoff-winning percentage is 28th.
With Saturday’s game at the New Jersey Devils postponed after 14 Devils’ players landed on COVID-19 protocol on Tuesday, the Rangers continue a season-long seven-game homestand after earning three out of four points in their first two games of the stretch, including a 3-1 win over the Penguins on Monday. The Rangers have gone 2-2-1 at Madison Square Garden this season. Forward Kaapo Kakko, who has been on the COVID-19 protocol list, skated with the Rangers on Wednesday.
The Rangers enter Thursday tied with the Islanders for an East Divison-worst 3-4-2 record in their first nine games, but they have earned points in three consecutive games, going 2-0-1 in that span. The Rangers were swept by the Carolina Hurricanes in the best-of-five Stanley Cup Qualifier series after going in as the 11th seed in the Eastern Conference.
After falling to the Hurricanes, the Rangers earned the first overall pick in the NHL Draft where they selected forward Alexis Lafreniere, who has one goal and a -3 rating in his first nine games.
New York also signed center Kevin Rooney (two goals, +3 rating in seven games), defenseman Jack Johnson (-4 rating, 48.15% Corsi-for percentage, 42.59% expected-goals for percentage in five games but has been a healthy scratch for three straight games), center Colin Blackwell (one goal, three points, +2 rating in four games but did not play against the Penguins on Monday), and defenseman Anthony Bitetto (even rating in one game) in free agency.
The Rangers lost goaltender Henrik Lundqvist (bought out), forward Jesper Fast (signed with Hurricanes), defenseman Marc Staal (traded to Detroit Red Wings), center Gregg McKegg (signed with Bruins), and center Lias Andersson (traded to Los Angeles Kings) over the offseason and recently announced that defenseman Anthony DeAngelo will not play another game for them after getting into a postgame altercation with goaltender Alexandar Georgiev after the team’s 5-4 overtime loss to the Penguins on Saturday.
Forward Artemi Panarin, who finished third in Hart Trophy voting as NHL MVP last season, leads the Rangers in goals (five), assists (seven), and points (12) through nine games this season. The 28-year-old enters Thursday’s game on a three-game goal-streak where he has earned three goals and six points after recording three points against the Penguins on Monday. Panarin has five more points than the next leading scorer on the Rangers, forward Pavel Buchnevich. Center Mika Zibanejad, whose 41 goals last season were fifth in the NHL last season, has posted just one goal, two points, and a -4 rating in nine games in 2020-21.
The Rangers’ average of 2.78 goals-per-game this season ranks 20th in the NHL and their average of 2.78 goals-against per game is currently at the league average. Their 15.8% power-play efficiency is tied with the Islanders for 19th but their 79.4% penalty-killing rate is 16th. Their average of 32.6 shots-per-game is tied with the Bruins for fourth while their average of 27.1 shots-against per game is tied with the Islanders for eighth. Only the Devils’ 40.1% faceoff-winning percentage is worse than the Rangers’ 41.3%
Capitals — Vitek Vanecek, 25 (5-1-2, .913 save percentage, 2.94 goals-against average this season), and Craig Anderson, 39. Anderson is 13-8-3 with a .939 save percentage, a 1.88 goals-against average, and five shutouts in 25 career regular-season games against the Rangers. Vanecek has yet to play a game against the Rangers in his NHL career.
Rangers — Igor Shesterkin, 25 (2-2-1, .906 save percentage, 2.41 goals-against average this season, and Georgiev, 24 (1-2-1, .886 save percentage, 3.27 goals-against average, one shutout). Shesterkin has never faced the Capitals while Georgiev has gone 1-2-1 with an .868 save percentage, a 4.34 goals-against average) in four career games against them.
By Harrison Brown