Dec. 27 vs. New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden
Time: 8:00 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Network
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, Capitals Radio 24/7
Washington Capitals 22-13-2
New York Rangers 19-13-4
With the NHL's three-day holiday break now in the rear view, Washington gets back to work on Wednesday night when it heads to New York to play its fourth straight road game. The Caps make the first of two visits to Manhattan this season when they take on the Rangers on the league's Wednesday Rivalry Night at Madison Square Garden.
Along with Arizona and Montreal, the Capitals are one of three NHL teams that went into the league's holiday break with a set of back-to-back games, and will also come out of the break with a set of back-to-backs.
"It's not ideal scheduling, that's for sure," said Caps goaltender Braden Holtby, last week, before the Capitals played a set of back-to-back games leading up to the holiday break. "I'm not sure how that happened. But the back-to-backs going into the break, it shouldn't be that much of an excuse or a challenge. I think we can manage that. But coming out of the break is going to be tough. Guys are going to have to look after themselves over the break and make sure that you're coming in ready to play, because you go right back into that action, and against two really good teams."
Playing a set of games on back-to-back nights is always tough in the modern NHL, but it will be a bit more difficult for Washington in this instance, coming out of the break. The Caps aren't permitted to travel until Wednesday, which is the day of the game. Normally, they'd be in the road city the night before a game. And normally, they'd conduct a morning skate at 11:30 a.m. local time in the arena of that road city.
Not this time. The Caps will conduct their pregame morning skate three hours earlier than normal at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, and then they'll head to New York for Wednesday night's nationally televised game against the Rangers.
Washington did not fare well on that set of back-to-back games leading into the holiday break. The Caps squandered a one-goal lead late in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Coyotes in Arizona on Friday night, and were rolled 3-0 in Vegas at the hands of the Golden Knights a night later.
Those twin setbacks have the Caps heading into Wednesday night's game against the Rangers on the heels of back-to-back losses, a situation the Capitals haven't found themselves in since mid-November.
"There is no excuse for that against any team," said Holtby in the aftermath of the loss in Las Vegas. "There have been times in the last little bit where we've gotten away with stuff. Games like this - if you use them right - can push you forward, because the luck turned on us, and it showed in this game. If you're realistic, you knew it would in a bit. We just have to push forward and get better."
Vegas scored all three of its goals in the first period, giving goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury more than enough offense with which to register his fourth career shutout over Washington.
"Ideally we'd execute coming out of our zone better," says Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen. "But [the Golden Knights] pressured us into mistakes. They have a quick lineup, and they came after us and forced us into turnovers. We didn't execute well enough out of our zone to give ourselves a chance in the first, and that's where they won the game.
"If you're not executing good passes, it slows everything down. I think we can do a better job of recognizing when it's not going well. Maybe we've just got to flip some pucks out and get into some foot races, relieve some pressure and get our legs going that way."
Both the Caps and the Rangers will need to find a way to get their legs going on Wednesday after spending the last three days away from the rink. Like the Capitals, the Rangers dropped their final game heading into the break. The Blueshirts dropped a 3-2 home ice decision at MSG on Saturday, but that setback is more of an outlier in recent Rangers performances.
New York occupied the basement slot in the Metropolitan Division standings at the outset of November, but the Rangers have rallied for a 16-6-2 run in their last 24 games, a stretch that has them ensconced in one of the Eastern Conference's two wild card playoff positions.
The Rangers used a heavily front-loaded home schedule to climb their way up the Metro ladder from eighth to fourth in less than two months. Even with Saturday's loss to the Leafs, New York is 12-2-1 in its last 15 homes games. But no team in the league has played fewer road games than the Rangers, and after the Caps leave town on Wednesday, the Blueshirts will play 28 of their last 45 games this season on the road. The Rangers are 5-7-1 on the road this season.
Washington and the Rangers met for the first time this season earlier this month, with the Capitals prevailing 4-2 over New York - thanks to Niskanen's game-winner in the third period - in that Dec. 8 contest in the District.