The breaks in the schedule are over and it’s solid hockey from here until the middle of June! And what better way to come out of the final break of the season than with a showdown against a key division rival?
The fourth place Washington Capitals and the third place New York Rangers will initiate their final push for the Playoffs Thursday night at Madison Square Garden. The battle begins just after 7:00 PM on ESPN.
Setting The Stage
The Capitals are currently four standings points behind the Rangers in the Metro with New York still holding two games in hand, so if the Capitals want to begin climbing out of the bottom playoff spots, it should start Thursday night in the Big Apple.
The Rangers last played on Sunday, so they’ve been on the ice more recently than the Capitals, who have been sitting idle since last Thursday.
The Rangers only had three postponed games to make up during the stretch of February that was previously set aside for the Olympic break. The Rangers had two weeks off between games on Feb. 1 and Feb. 15. Since returning, the Rangers have played three tight, low-scoring contests, two of which required a shootout to determine the winner.
Rangers head coach Gerard Gallant met with the media on Wednesday and spoke about his team’s preparations for their tilt with the Capitals.
The Capitals will be seeking a sixth straight road win Thursday night, which would match a franchise record for consecutive road wins set in 1983-84 and matched in 2010-11.
Whether it was planned or just a case of good timing, the Capitals are getting “healthy” at just the right time. It’s still unknown if T.J. Oshie will play on Thursday, but the signs are positive as Oshie practiced with the team three times this week and made the trip to New York.
The same can also be said for Vitek Vanecek, who has been out since the Penguins game on February 1. We should find out more about their status’ following morning skate on Thursday.
Capitals’ head coach Peter Laviolette spoke about final preparations for the game following the team’s optional practice on Wednesday.
Reviewing the team statistics, several areas of play stand out. The Capitals are performing better than the Rangers in shot attempts and shot suppression. (The Capitals largest edge will be shown in the graphic following this one).
The Rangers have the third-best power play in the NHL and hold a sizeable edge over the Capitals in overall specials teams (Special Teams Index – STI). It’s safe to say penalties will be critical Thursday night, but what else is new?
While the Rangers have the edge in special teams, the Capitals have a sizable edge in even-strength play as the possession metrics depict below. The Rangers are well below 50% in all key categories while the Capitals have played above the 50% threshold all season.
[The statistics used in this post are courtesy of Natural Stat Trick and Hockey Reference. If you’d like to learn more about the analytical terms used in this post, please check out our NHL analytics glossary.]
Following the Rangers tilt, the Capitals’ will head south for a return engagement with the Flyers on Saturday. The two teams, who met last Thursday in South Philly, will do it against Saturday afternoon at Wells Fargo Center. Puck drop in the City of Brotherly Love is set for 12:30 PM.
Buckle up! Thursday night’s tilt in Manhattan should be a good one.
Capitals-Rangers game notes are here.
By Jon Sorensen