With a 4-1 road victory in Ottawa secured on Saturday the Rangers (26-21-3, 55 pts) return home to host the Washington Capitals (22-18-8, 52 pts) Sunday night at Madison Square Garden in an important Metropolitan Division contest. The Rangers will enter play having won two in a row, and five of their last six games. In their last 14 games dating back to December 22nd the Rangers are an impressive 10-3-1, and as such have risen into a second-place tie in the division with the Philadelphia Flyers, three points ahead of the Capitals and Blue Jackets.
The four goals scored by New York on Saturday marked the first time in three games they tallied more than one, though was also the 11th time in the past 16 contests the Rangers scored three or more. That revived offensive production--with Rick Nash netting five goals in the last seven games, Brad Richards with four in the last eight, and Mats Zuccarello with four in the last nine contests--has paired with some stout defensive play and strong goaltending to spur the Rangers recent run of success. The Blueshirts have surrendered only four goals in their previous four games, and have allowed two or fewer in eight of their last ten contests.
On Saturday the Rangers allowed only 14 shots through two periods of play while racing to a 3-1 lead over the Senators, completely stifling Ottawa's offense. When pressed in the third period, Cam Talbot stood tall in goal stopping all 16 shots he faced. Despite Talbot's strong play in goal Saturday, earning his tenth win in 13 starts this season, Henrik Lundqvist will be back between the pipes on Sunday. Lundqvist will be making his tenth start in the last 12 Rangers games, and will be coming off Thursday's 38-save effort in a 1-0 shutout win over the Detroit Red Wings.
Sunday's game will also mark the start to a three-game homestand for the Rangers, who just posted a 3-1-0 mark on a four-game homestand prior to the road win in Ottawa. They are 11-11-3 on home ice now. Their high-water mark this season at The Garden was when they started the year 4-2-0 on home ice. Their low-water mark was a 1-7-1 stretch from mid-November into December at MSG. The Rangers are currently 5-1-1 in their last seven games on home ice.
Washington comes into The Garden Sunday looking to salvage their three-game road trip. The Capitals have already lost divisional road games in Pittsburgh (4-3) and Columbus (5-1) on this trip and are without a win in their last four games overall (0-2-2), equaling their longest winless stretch of the season. Since December 21st, right around the same time the Rangers began their current 10-3-1 run, the Capitals have gone the other way, going 3-5-5 in their last 13 contests.
Currently the Capitals are juggling three healthy goaltenders as Michal Neuvirth is once again in the mix following an injury. Neuvirth joins rookie Philipp Grubauer and the Rangers nemesis the last two spring's in the playoffs, Braden Holtby, in fighting for starts until the Caps front office and coaching staff decide who stays and who goes. Grubauer started and was pulled in the 5-1 loss to the Blue Jackets on Friday, with Holtby playing for the first time in two weeks finishing the game in relief. Neuvirth started in Pittsburgh on Wednesday and let a 3-2 third-period lead disipate into the 4-3 defeat. Who will start in goal Sunday against the Rangers is not yet known, though Grubauer has been very good in two starts against New York so far this season, winning both.
According to the Capitals web site, head coach Adam Oates reunited his top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Marcus Johansson at practice Saturday, while juggling all three of his top lines. Ovehckin leads the NHL with 34 goals, while Backstrom is fourth in the league with 37 assists. However they are a combined minus-22 on the season, and a minus-30 with the addition of Johansson to the line.