Washington Capitals @ New York Rangers
Washington: 10-4-0, 20 points
Leading scorer: Alex Ovechkin, 8-10-18 in 14 GP
Tied Fenwick% last season: 51.1%
Notable injuries/illnesses: D Tom Poti, G Semyon Varlamov, W Brooks Laich
Probable starting goalie: Michal Neuvirth (8-3-0, 2.41, .914)
Player to watch: D Mike Green
New York: 7-6-1, 15 points
Leading scorer: Brandon Dubinsky, 10-4-14 in 14 GP
Tied Fenwick% last season: 49.5%
Notable injuries/illnesses: RW Marian Gaborik, C Chris Drury, F Vaclav Prospal
Probable starting goalie: Henrik Lundqvist (6-4-1, 2.55, .924)
Player to watch: C Brandon Dubinsky
The Capitals, on a four game winning streak, come to the Big Apple to face the up-and-down Rangers, who, despite injuries to important players, are somehow staying afloat, even with poor special teams (their vaunted PK is under 80%).
1) Lundqvist vs world. Henrik Lundqvist has been terrific thus far for the Rangers, and Martin Biron has been solid as well. Lundqvist will need to be at his best tonight, as Washington's talented shooters will be the toughest offensive matchup thus far for NYR. The Caps' history against New York recently may not be jaw-dropping (Ovechkin and Backstrom are hardly over a point-per-game, Semin is just under), but that doesn't mean the Rangers can slack off.
2) Does Alex Ovechkin wake up? While Ovechkin has been putting up points recently, his even strength play hasn't been too great. Instead of Pronger and Timonen trying to stop him, it'll be Marc Staal, who at just 23 years old is already an elite shutdown defenseman. John Tortorella will be matching him against Ovechkin as often as possible, and Ovechkin will have to have a very good game to break through.
3) Is this really Mike Green? Since returning from injury, Mike Green has been phenomenal. Playing top minutes every night in every sense of the word--time on ice, penalty kill, power play, and matchups--he has moved the puck efficiently, skated well, and been rock solid defensively. This is much better play from Green in terms of offensive-defensive balance than I can recall from him before. Will it keep up? He'll have his hands full taking on the blue-hot line of Ryan Callahan-Brandon Dubinsky-Artem Anisimov. Luckily for Green, those are Tortorella's tough minutes forwards too, so Green should have Ovechkin and Backstrom in front of him as well.
4) Can the second line hold its own? Brooks Laich, surprisingly to me, has been a pretty good Corsi player so far this season. He looks like he'll be out of the lineup, so Tomas Fleischmann and Mike Knuble will have a new linemate. Unless Boudreau gets creative and puts Semin on the second line with Fehr on the top line, I really think that line will have an extremely tough night. There are simply no puck control players on that line, and the Rangers have some tough forechecking forwards that'll dump-and-chase all day, plus a notable good two-way puck-possession forward in Alexander Frolov ("Semin-lite" is probably a decent description). That is, unless "Carlznerson"
or "Sloskine" bails 'em out.
5) Special teams. Thus far this season the Rangers' PK has been struggling, and the power play has been frustrating. The Capitals come into the game with a hot power play that has now hit 20%, and a penalty kill that, while not as efficient as earlier in the season, is still around 87% and top-10 in the NHL. Both teams average 13.6 PIMs/game thus far as well. That being said, the Rangers' penalty kill for years has been one of the best in the league, and will present a tough matchup. A poor special teams performance could easily offset any gains at even strength
A sixth question--how much more will I love Ryan Callahan after tonight's game? My guess is not as much as before. The Capitals are hot while the Rangers are trending sideaways with injuries to two important players. Neuvirth should be nice and rested, and I'm pretty confident the Capitals can expose Lundqvist's glove more than the Rangers can attack Neuvirth's rebounds. Capitals 3, Rangers 0.