Once again the Rangers (15-13-2, 32 pts) are in the position of looking to rebound after a disappointing loss when they host the surging Washington Capitals (14-16-1, 29 pts) tonight at Madison Square Garden. After righting their ship with a pair of victories earlier in the week, the Rangers dropped a 3-1 home-ice decision to the Florida Panthers on Thursday; while the Capitals enter play having won two straight and three of their last four as they try and sneak their way back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
To a man the Rangers recognize the need to produce more offensively. Quite simply games are being lost and points are not being gained in the standings because of the Rangers scoring woes. Though they fired 45 shots at Florida goalie Jakob Markstrom Thursday night, head coach John Tortorella pointed out that the Blueshirts needed to do a lot more with their offensive zone time than they did. Markstrom also mentioned after the game that most of the Rangers shots were easy to handle as they were long range without too much traffic bothering him. On the positive side the Rangers dominated play and posessed the puck on a regular basis, which is at the heart of their game.
Marian Gaborik's goal---coming with under four minutes to play in the third period---might be the perfect example of how the Rangers need to score. It came on a power move to the net, in which Gaborik shed defenders before flipping an in-tight shot past Markstrom. It was aggressive, and it was powerful, and it was effective.
The Rangers have scored only seven goals in their last six games, with Gaborik and Rick Nash accounting for one each and Brad Richards being held without a goal. That threesome generated quite a few scoring chances Thursday and did team up on the eventual game-winning goal in New Jersey on Tuesday night, but much more is expected from the club's three star forwards playing on the same line---which they will do for a fourth straight game this evening.
There will be at least one change---and perhaps more---to the Blueshirts lineup tonight. Veteran center Jeff Halpern was claimed on waivers by Montreal, and it appears his spot should be taken by Arron Asham, who looks ready to return from an extended absence due to a bad back. However J.T. Miller did not practice Saturday because of a left wrist issue, and Kris Newbury was recalled from the Connecticut Whale, so more changes may be in the offing.
Whether or not Henrik Lundqvist makes a seventh consecutive start in goal is also in question. Martin Biron's last start came two weeks agao today when he backstopped a 4-1 win over these very same Capitals down in Washington D.C.
The Caps are playing some of their best hockey of the season right now, outscoring their opponents 15-4 in their last three victories, including back-to-back wins in Winnipeg over the Jets by the scores of 4-0 and 6-1 Thursday and Friday. This is in stark contrast to when the Rangers last faced the Capitals and they were in the midst of losing three in a row by a combined 13-3 margin.
Washington, which got off to a 2-8-1 start under first-year coach Adam Oates, will be looking to equal its season-high by winning its third consecutive game this evening. They have won three in a row twice, and two in a row on two other occasions so far in 2013. They have been bouyed by a power play that has scored in each of the last four games and in five of six. The Caps have scored eight power play goals in their last ten games.
New York has won both meetings with the Capitals this season, and they will be looking to finish a season series sweep with a victory tonight, while also trying to hold Washington at bay since the Caps are now just three points behind the Blueshirts in the standings. On February 17th Carl Hagelin and Derek Stepan scored in a 2-1 Rangers win over the Caps at The Garden, while two weeks ago Brian Boyle's first goal of the season highlighted a 4-1 road win in Washington.
Will the Rangers find a way to score more goals tonight and pick up the valuable two points? Share your predictions below.