Season Series: This is the second of four meetings between the clubs this season. The Rangers won in Washington, 4-3, on Oct. 8 thanks to a pair of third-period goals from Marian Gaborik, who had the game-tying and game-winning tallies.
Big Story: After days of speculating, tonight should be the night when Alex Ovechkin returns to the Capitals lineup after missing six games with an upper-body strain suffered Nov. 1 against Columbus. Ovechkin loves playing in road buildings that have a great atmosphere, so returning at Madison Square Garden should be perfect for him.
Capitals: Ovechkin's return will be a welcome sign to the Caps, who are coming off a 5-2 loss in New Jersey and have been in the Tri-State area since late Friday night. They took Sunday off and practiced at Prudential Center in Newark on Monday. The Caps still have some injury concerns even with Ovechkin returning. Mike Knuble is missing time with a fractured finger that requires surgery and Boyd Gordon is out with an ailing back. Defenseman Milan Jurcina is also out with a lower body injury and center David Steckel took a puck off the foot in Monday's practice and is now questionable. Chris Clark will play on the top line for the first time in two years. Even with Ovechkin in the lineup, Brendan Morrison will stay at the point on the power play. Ovechkin will be in the slot.
"Let's be serious, people come out to see Ovi and every time he touches the puck they expect to see something spectacular," Morrison said. "There is an energy in the building and most times he delivers."
Rangers: Still riddled by injuries to centers Brandon Dubinsky (broken hand) and Chris Drury (concussion), the Rangers need to find some consistency in their game. They have had more downs than ups since a seven-game winning streak in early-to-mid October. They picked up a 2-1 shootout victory in Ottawa on Saturday, but that came after their defense was a no-show in a 5-3 loss to Atlanta two nights earlier. The Rangers also went 1-2 on their three-game swing through Western Canada. There was lots of talk Monday about coach John Tortorella looking to get more ice time, specifically on the power play, for Wade Redden. Marc Staal, who plays more than 22 minutes a game, would lose some power-play time if Tortorella decides to use Redden more.
"We still have a fairly young guy there in Marc and we've been heaping a lot of responsibility on him as far as playing against a lot of top players and adding power-play time," Tortorella told reporters Monday. "You worry about ice time. We'll juggle that a little bit."
Who's Hot: For the Capitals, rookie Mathieu Perreault has two goals and three assists in six games since getting called up from Hershey of the AHL while Tomas Fleischman has seven goals in nine games since making his season debut after sitting out with deep vein thrombosis in his left leg. For the Rangers, leading scorer Gaborik (25 points) is on a four-game point streak (2-4-6) and goalie Henrik Lundqvist is coming off a 35-save effort in Saturday's win over Ottawa.
Injury Report: The Capitals will be without Knuble, Gordon and Jurcina. David Steckel is questionable after taking a shot off the foot in Monday's practice. The Rangers are without Drury and Dubinsky.
Stat Pack: Ovechkin has three goals and three assists but a minus-8 rating in eight career regular-season games at Madison Square Garden. … The two goals Gaborik scored in the first meeting between these teams this season were the first two goals he has scored in his career against the Caps. He had only one assist in seven games against Washington when he played for Minnesota. … Steckel plays roughly 14 minutes per game, but he was third in the NHL with 205 faceoff wins entering Monday. The leader, Sidney Crosby with 252 faceoff wins, plays nearly eight more minutes per game. … The Caps as a team were fifth in the NHL in faceoff percentage (52.0) while the Rangers were 27th (47.6). And, the Rangers are playing without their best two faceoff men in Drury and Dubinsky.
Puck Drop: "Such an easy thing to do when you have your top goal scorer in the lineup is almost defer," Morrison said. "You can have the mentality that if I don't get one tonight he's going to get one for us. You can be treading in dangerous waters there. You have to have the mindset that I gotta go out and contribute and if he gets his too then we're in better shape. It's believing that you can and knowing that you can."