Tonight's game between the Caps and Rangers could have a fair amount of significance. The Capitals have a chance to make a clear statement that they are indeed now among the top tier teams in the League by beating the now Eastern Conference 4th place New York Rangers. The Eastern Conference rival Rangers, need to win to possibly regain the lead in the Atlantic Division from the Philadelphia Flyers (who have a game in hand on both the Rangers and Caps and are tied in points with the Rangers @ 49.) The Caps come into the game surging and with a 9-1-0 record in their last ten games. The Rangers come into the game, well ..., backsliding and with a record of 5-4-1 in their last 10 games including going 1-1-1 during their last three games which were at Madison Square Garden. Per the Ranger's official website, they are looking to extract some payback from the Caps, who last beat them in overtime at MSG on December 23rd 5-4 in a game that saw the Caps come back from a 3-0 first period deficit. That should be interesting, as the Capitals, who are 16-1-1 at home so far this season, have made it a mission this year to be exceptionally tough to play against at DC's Verizon Center.
So far this regular season the teams have met twice and the Rangers are indeed 0-1-1 while the Capitals are 2-0-0. The Rangers managed to salvage a point from the Capitals in the 12/23 overtime loss. At the meeting prior to that, on November 8th at Verizon Center, the game was tightly contested until the Capitals' Alexander Semin put the game away with an empty net goal at 19:54 of the third period. Washington surged through the month of December and opened 2009 with a New Years day win over Tampa Bay. The Caps have now won five in a row and 10 of their last 11. The one blemish on that record was a particularly ugly 7-1 loss in Philadelphia on 12/20, that may have helped drive the Capitals to ensure they didn't make it 2 losses in a row the last time they face the Rangers.
That the Capitals continue to achieve the success they are attaining despite the continued number of injuries to impact players is perplexing to many around the league. Caps fans are just thankful that the fruits of a "multi-year" rebuilding program are becoming self evident and being reaped. On that front, only Mike Green, is a definite player in in tonight's roster compared to the players who missed the last "bout" with the Rangers. Green has generally enjoyed success against the Broadway Bangers and should be a real force tonight, as long as he "doesn't get too cute." However in more good news this morning from Tarik El-Bashir, it appears that both Alexander Semin and Donald Brashear will also return to tonight's line-up for the Caps. Semin's return means the Blueshirts will have to defend against scoring threats from four of the Caps top five goal scorers this season. However, Tomas Fleischmann, Sergei Federov, Tom Poti, John Erskine and Brian Pothier all remain sidelined. Jose Theodore will face the Rangers for the second time in less than two weeks tonight and will be looking for his fifth victory in a row. Theodore and the Caps had a rocky start on 12/23 then came back into the net for the second and third period and played just superbly. The confidence he gained/displayed during those 40 minutes have, at least so far, carried over to his play since then. Here's to hoping the first period against the Rangers on 12/23 was the last wake-up call the Capitals will need until after the 2009 playoffs are concluded.
Caps fans have to be hopeful that, the Rangers read and believe their own press releases and play accordingly. According to the Rangers press releases (linked to above), they are a defense first team and the Caps are "all about offense" and the offense is predominately Alexander Ovechkin. While there is no doubt Ovie IS the face of the new Capitals and its #1 superstar, the last game, in which the Capitals scored 7 times, all 7 goals were by different players. To be clear, the Rangers press release clearly meant no disrespect to the other Capitals, it was just very one-sided, perhaps justifiably, in its praise of Ovechkin. You can't really blame them, he is no doubt, one of the best, if not the best player in world right now; and he scored the tying goal that sent the 12/23 game into overtime. However, the Capitals offense is clearly as well distributed or better than the Rangers when you look at their goal scoring statistics to date. The Caps currently have 7 skaters with 8 or more goals (on pace for 20+ goal seasons) while the Rangers only have 5 skaters with similar productivity: Aaron Voros, Chris Drury, Ryan Callahan, Nickolai Zherdev, and Markus Naslund, though you have to believe that Scott Gomez, who only has 7 goals so far this season will also find a way to 20+ goals before the last regular season game is played in April as well.
In case you're wondering who to be rooting for tonight in other NHL games that matter to the Eastern Conference Capitals, its: Buffalo over Boston, Florida over Pittsburgh, and the LA Kings over the Flyers. You'll notice that for the most part, Caps Fans probably shouldn't care about the outcome of either Ottawa vs. Toronto or Carolina vs. Atlanta other than that both games end in regulation, since freebie, extra points can only hurt a conference team who isn't involved in that particular game in the standings.
Here's to hoping the "third time is the charm" since this is the third time the Capitals have won five games in succession; a win tonight by the Caps would push that streak to six for the first time in the 2008-09 season. I'll be "Rockin the Red" here on the couch in Bristow, Tom and his son will be watching from our seats in Section 103.
LETS GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!