Thursday, February 4, 2010

Caps vs. Rangers at Madison Square Garden Tonight

The Washington Capitals and their Dads will be at Madison Square Garden tonight to take on the New York Rangers. Between this being the annual Dad's trip, the Caps going for win #12, and the generation of drama the MSM is brewing in anticipation of this weekend's nationally televised match up between the Caps and Penguins, there's enough story lines going around to worry about possible distractions. That's where the fact tonight's game is against the Rangers is a good thing. After the last two years playoffs, along with the familiarity that comes from being Conference rivals, it's unlikely the Caps will look past tonight's game or be thinking about anything other than the need to play a focused, full sixty minute game against the Blueshirts.

Sure the Rangers play of late hasn't been very great. Sure there's now two new faces - Ollie Jokinen and Brandon Prust - that need to gel with the rest of the Rangers team. Jokinen and Prust were acquired in a trade with the Flames on Tuesday when the Rangers sent Christopher Higgens and Ales Kotalik to Calgary. Sure the Rangers haven't scored a power play goal in their last seven games and many times this season, the Rangers 5 on 5 offense have consisted of only one weapon - sniper Marian Gaboriak. However, the fact remains, the Ranger's lineup is loaded with talent. While for some byzantine reason the team hasn't really lived up to what would have, no should have been reasonable and justified high expectations, there are numerous familiar names of players any one or two of which could be the catalyst for a team to beat any other team in the NHL. That starts with Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and then works it way from the Rangers net outward. King Henrik certainly has the demonstrated ability to steal one for his team from time to time, pretty much all on his own. The Rangers blueline has several name players, who despite having been underwhelming from time to time this season, also have the ability to shut down high flying offenses. Namelky Wade Redden, Michal Rozsival, and Marc Staal. Additionally that Michael Del Zotto "kid" has been showing he ain't too bad either all season long. One of the interesting things about the Rangers blueline is their size - they average 6'2". 205#. The smallest is Del Zotto at 6'1", 195. So they can "bring it" when they want. On the forward lines, in addition to Right Wing Marian Gaborik, the first line now includes Vinny Prospal at and Jokinen. This is the Rangers version of Ovechkin - Backstrom - Knuble, and it's not a far variation if they can now develop some chemistry as Jokinen joins the group.

Gaborik, with his 4th in the league 34 goals, is certainly doing his part on a team with a total of 156 goals for in 57 games. Prospal's 9 goals and 30 assists to date are also solid contributions on a team that has often struggled to generate offense this season. In his first game as a Ranger on Tuesday in Los Angeles against the Kings, Jokinen skated over 20 minutes on 21 shifts and had more ice time than any other Rangers forward except Gaborik. He brings both the usual play making abilities expected of a Scandinavian centerman as well as strong physical presence to the game. When/if this line gels it will be a force in most if not all of the Rangers remaining games this season. The supporting cast of second, third and fourth liners for the Rangers also still includes some pretty impressive names and weapons: Sean Avery, Bandon Dubinsky, Chris Drury, Ryan Callahan, Artem Asminov and Erik Christensen - not all big names but all solid, talented players capable of lighting the red light in the NHL.

So far this season the Caps and Rangers have faced each other twice and the series is tied 1 -1. Their last meeting was November 17th in New York - the Caps won that game 4-2. Their first meeting of this season was on October 8th, at Verizon Center - the Rangers took that one 4-3 in regulation. So, the Caps know this is a team that can beat them. They also probably realize the addition of Ollie Jokinen makes them stronger and the former Florida Panthers Captain is a talented guy who knows the Caps pretty well. If that doesn't help keep the Caps heads firmly on their shoulders and minds focused on the task at hand, they can always think back to the last two 7 game playoff series against the Rangers....

So the good news is tonight, the Caps will likely be taking it all "one game at a time." The better news ought to be it looks like they will continue doing so until they, hopefully, achieve their real goal. This quote Cap's Majority Owner Ted Leonsis, compliments of the Washington Post, keeps that in perspective: "Just want to win the Cup. That's all we are focused on as a franchise. We have removed all other obstacles and can now have a singular focus on our present and our future." See like I said a focused, relentless, march to a straightforward goal - one game at a time, but it is nice to see such clear statements as reminders.

Prediction: Caps 3 - Rangers 2, OT; GWG: Ovechkin


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