A pair of teams looking to get back on track after seeing recent winning streaks come to an end meet in NBC's featured game on Sunday as the Rangers (12-9-2, 26 pts) face the Washington Capitals (10-12-1, 21 pts) at the Verizon Center. The Rangers had won a season-high four straight games before falling to the Senators, 3-2, Friday at The Garden, while the Capitals had their season-high-tying three game win streak come to a crashing halt with a 5-2 loss on Long Island Saturday afternoon.
Sunday's contest also marks the start of the a four-game road trip for the Rangers, which continues Tuesday in Buffalo, Thursday in Winnipeg, and concludes Saturday in Pittsburgh. Only eight of their first 23 games have been played on the road, so the Rangers will be spending a lot of time away from The Garden in the coming weeks. In fact the Rangers will play eight of their next 11 games on the road.
However the Blueshirts have thrived under John Tortorella on the road over the past three seasons, and it has become a big part of their identity to go into other buildings and skate away with two points. The Rangers won 24 road contests in each of the last two seasons, and 20 back in 2009-10. This year the Rangers are 3-4-1 away from Madison Square Garden, winning their most recent road game 2-1 in overtime against the Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum on Thursday.
With Brad Richards back in the lineup following a two-game injury absence, the Rangers are relatively healthy entering play on Sunday. Marc Staal and Arron Asham remain out. Richards returned in strong fashion Friday night, scoring his third goal of the season and firing six shots on goal, while centering the blistering hot Rick Nash---six goals in his last five games--- and Carl Hagelin. Expect that line to remain intact Sunday, with Derek Stepan centering Ryan Callahan and Marian Gaborik.
Brian Boyle, who was scratched from the lineup Friday, was skating on the fourth line during Saturday's practice, with Jeff Halpern and Micheal Haley---who registered a team-high six hits Friday and also fought Ottawa's Chris Phillips. Stu Bickel, who has been playing up front recently, shifted back to defense during practice. J.T. Miller continued to center the third line with Taylor Pyatt and Darroll Powe on the wings.
How the lineup shakes out Sunday is still not known. Tortorella also threw into question whether or not Roman Hamrlik will play on the blueline as he works his way back in to game shape. And whether or not Henrik Lundqvist make his seventh straight start in goal for the Rangers, or if Martin Biron will get the call, is not yet known either.
Sunday's game will be the Blueshirts first visit to the Verizon Center since the Rangers dropped Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals last spring, falling to the Capitals 2-1. The Rangers lost two of three postseason games at the Verizon Center a year ago, though their only win was the memorable 2-1 triple overtime victory in Game 3 on May 2nd.
The Capitals enter play having picked up their collective game after a very slow start to the 2013 season. They have won five of their last eight, and eight of their last 13 games to sneak back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture. One of the keys to their recent success is winning on home ice, which they have done four consecutive games coming into Sunday's match with the Rangers.
Despite the better results of late, the Caps remain wildly inconsistent. They are capable of shutting a team out one night, and surrendering four or five goals the next. They can explode for seven goals as they did two games agao, then struggle to score twice against the Isles on Saturday. Even their power play---their bread and butter offensively with stars like Alex Ovechkin, (the no-injured) Mike Green, and Nicklas Backstrom---has been up and down. They are 3 for their last 6 on the power play the last two games after an 0-10 spell, which was preceded by a 5-for-11 run.
So who gets back on track Sunday? And who do you think will be the most important Ranger in this game? Share your predictions below.