It’s go time! The Capitals and Rangers open their 2021-22 campaigns with a showdown at Capital One Arena on Wednesday night. The game will be the first meeting between the two teams since their infamous fight night back on May 5.
It took just one second for things to pick up, as on the opening draw, the Capitals’ fourth-line of Carl Hagelin, Nic Dowd, and Garnet Hathaway dropped the gloves with the Rangers’ Kevin Rooney, Colin Blackwell, and Phillip Di Giuseppe in a full-out line brawl.
The game included six fights and over 100 penalty minutes in the first period alone.
All of the hostility stemmed from the previous meeting between the two teams in which Tom Wilson was attacked by Artermi Panarin, and Wilson would respond by pounding Panrairn.
The following day the Rangers released a formal statement condemning the Capitals, Tom Wilson and the NHL’s Department of Player Safety, who correctly determined, for once, there would be no additional penalties handed out.
The Rangers would be fined $250,000 by the league for their pathetic public whimpering.
In the days that followed, the Rangers would fire front office staff, including general manager Jeff Gorton and Team President John Davidson. The Rangers would then fire head coach David Quinn a week later.
NoVa Caps would release their new tribute design honoring the events of when Tom Wilson took Manhattan, two weeks later. (You can still order here.)
Thats a lot to digest from the previous meetings, but we had to set the stage.
Rangers Crawl Out Of The Smoking Crater
The Rangers franchise would be changed forever after the last series in New York. They hired Gerard Gallant as their new head coach, and Assistant GM Chris Drury replaced Gorton in the front office.
Additions And Subtractions
Rangers Key Offseason Additions: LW Sammy Blais, C Barclay Goodrow, LW Dryden Hunt, RW Ryan Reaves, LHD Patrik Nemeth, LHD Jarred Tinordi, Head Coach Gerard Gallant
Rangers Key Offseason Subtractions: LW Pavel Buchnevich, RW Colin Blackwell, LHD Brendan Smith, C Brett Howden, RHD Tony DeAngelo, Head Coach David Quinn
Capitals Key Offseason Additions: LHD Matt Irwin
Capitals Key Offseason Subtractions: Chara, LHD Brenden Dillon, LW Michael Raffl, LW Daniel Carr, G Craig Anderson
The Rangers were slightly above average with 2.77 goals-against per game last season and have the reigning Norris Trophy winner in Fox, who posted five goals, 47 points, a +19 rating, a 49.85% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 54.22% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 50.9% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage.
The Rangers are hoping that K’Andre Miller (five goals, 12 points, +9 rating, 47.85% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 45.72% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 46.1% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 53 games) and Nils Lundkvist (14 goals, 32 points, -1 rating in 52 SHL games) are ready to take the next step in their developments.
Shesterkin, 25, has looked like the real deal ever since stepping onto Broadway after going 16-14-3 with a .916 save percentage and a 2.62 goals-against average.
While they lost Buchnevich, the Rangers’ fourth-line is a lot better, offense is potent, defense is up and coming, and young goaltender is blossoming. With Gallant behind the bench, their rebuild could be in the rearview.
Following a third straight first-round exit and a season where they allowed an average of 2.88 goals-per-game (17th), the Capitals did not make many changes except on the left side of defense, as they traded Dillon to the Winnipeg Jets and lost Chara in free agency.
There was a hole on the second-pairing and Martin Fehervary, who earned three goals, 17 points, and a +10 rating in 24 AHL games with the Hershey Bears last season, will be given the first opportunity to take that spot.
With Backstrom to miss the start of the season due to a hip injury, the Capitals are giving Connor McMichael (14 goals, 27 points in 33 AHL games in first professional season) and Hendrix Lapierre (eight goals, 31 points in 31 QMJHL games) long an opportunity. Center Evgeny Kuznetsov must bounce back after earning just nine goals and 29 points in 41 games and missing 15 games due to COVID-19 and suspension last season.
The Capitals are heading into the season with the same goaltending tandem from a season ago with Ilya Samsonov (13-4-1 with a .902 save percentage, a 2.69 goals-against average, and two shutouts) and Vitek Vanecek (21-10-4 with a .908 save percentage, a 2.69 goals-against average, and two shutouts), which is the NHL’s most inexperienced. Both showed promising glimpses at times but need to be more consistent.
For the second straight season, the Capitals are heading into the campaign with one of the NHL’s oldest rosters. Ovechkin (36), Backstrom (33), Carlson (31), right-wing T.J. Oshie (34), center Lars Eller (32), left-wing Carl Hagelin (33), center Nic Dowd (31), right-wing Garnet Hathaway (will turn 30 in November), defenseman Nick Jensen (31), defenseman Dmitry Orlov (30), defenseman Justin Schultz (31), and defenseman Trevor Van Riemsdyk (30) are all over 30 years of age. That is 13 members of their 23-man roster.
Heading into the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, age and injuries caught up to the Capitals and the possibilities of McMichael and Fehervary joining their roster will help, but will it be enough?
The Capitals’ Stanley Cup window is shrinking but they should still be able to get into the postseason as long as they stay healthy, both of their goalies step up, and their core players can fight Father Time for a little longer.
The Capitals and Rangers have previously met four times on opening night, all at Madison Square Garden. Wednesday night’s season-opener at Capital One Arena will be the first ever on Capitals home ice.
Capitals projected lines:
Capitals lines during practice with no Alex Ovechkin (lower-body):
Extras: Malenstyn, Irwin
No Backstrom (hip)
— Samantha Pell (@SamanthaJPell) October 11, 2021
Rangers projected lines:
Here’s what I’m seeing for the lineup. Looks like #NYR may go big-and-gritty for the opener in DC.
Laf – Zib – Kreider
Panarin – Strome – Kakko
Blais – Chytil – Goodrow
Hunt – Rooney – Reaves
Lindgren – Fox
Miller – Trouba
Tinordi – Nemeth
— Vince Z. Mercogliano (@vzmercogliano) October 11, 2021
Puck drop for Capitals-Rangers is set for just after 7:30PM. The game will be televised by TNT, their inaugural regular season broadcast under their new television contract with the NHL.
By Jon Sorensen