Season series -- Washington and New York have split two meetings so far this season, with the Rangers handing the Capitals one of their worst defeats of the current campaign the last time they faced off, a 7-0 drubbing on Dec. 12, 2010 at Madison Square Garden.
Big story -- Both teams are working to keep themselves in the East's tight postseason race, but the order is particularly tall for the Caps, who will look to stay hot as they try to keep pace in the Southeast Division.
Rangers -- By most accounts New York has performed better than expected so far this season, but a recent slump is threatening to bump the Rangers out of the top eight. New York has only won two of its last five games, and while one of those wins was a massive 7-0 victory over the Maple Leafs last week, in which Marian Gaborik scored four goals, that big night is their only regulation win in the past 10 days. As well, Gaborik has been relatively silent aside from his outburst against Toronto.
However, it isn't all bad news for the Blueshirts, who will be finishing up a three-game road trip through the Southeast Monday night. New York took its last outing Saturday night in Atlanta thanks to a shootout goal from rookie winger Mats Zuccarello, and young Derek Stepan, who has five points in his last five games continues to impress. A win Monday would certainly help turnaround what has been a rough situation the last two weeks.
Capitals -- In all likelihood, Washington didn't expect to be out of first place this late in the season, but with all due respect, not many others would have expected it either. Fortunately for the Caps, the gap between them and the top of the Southeast isn't large, and the team has played as well as could be expected of late, going 4-0-1 in its last five games. Washington hasn't lost in regulation since Jan. 12, but that defeat came at the hands of surprising Tampa Bay, the very team the Caps are chasing in the division race.
If the Caps need any sign that they could overtake the Bolts, they need look no further than their captain, who appears to finally be breaking out. After tallying just three points over a seven game stretch, Alex Ovechkin lit up Toronto for a hat trick Saturday in Washington's last time on the ice, giving the Russian sniper four goals and two assists in his last three games. Ovechkin is hardly the open weapon on the team, but if the two-time Richard Trophy winner starts scoring in bunches, it can only be good for the Capitals.
Who's hot -- Since coming to the Rangers in a deal for defenseman Michal Rozsival, Wojtek Wolski has made New York look like the early winner in the deal, tallying five points in his last four games. ... While Ovechkin is generally the first Capital to come to mind, Nicklas Backstrom has showed lately that he plays second fiddle to no one, tallying seven points in his last five games.
Injury report -- The Rangers have managed to keep pace despite dealing with longterm injuries to Ryan Callahan (broken hand), Erik Christensen (sprained knee) and most recently Alex Frolov, who will miss the remainder of the season after undergoing surgery on his right knee. As well, the recent loss of leading-scorer Brandon Dubinsky for 3-4 weeks due to a stress fracture will be a significant obstacle. Washington is without Winter Classic hero Eric Fehr, who is expected to miss 2-3 more weeks with a shoulder injury, and Alex Semin, who has not played since Jan. 8 after suffering a hip injury.
Stat pack -- Ovechkin's recent hot streak could be an indicator that the two-time MVP could be headed for a big second half. He'd certainly need it to reach his usual standards. While his current pace of 85 points over a full season is nothing to sniff at, it would be the lowest of his career and just the second time he failed to crack 100 points.
Puck drop -- As the Caps start to pull themselves together, it certainly seems as if they'll be challenging for the Southeast crown, if not eventually taking it outright, for the rest of the season. The Rangers, who play in a division with Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, don't have the luxury of being within touching distance of first place. Just staying in the top eight is the major challenge and beating the Capitals would be a good boost as they try to climb up the standings. As they showed the last time these two faced off, it's not as if the Rangers don't know how.