March 5 vs. New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 106.7 FAN
Washington Capitals 40-20-6
New York Rangers 35-27-4
A night after taking a 5-2 loss at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers in Washington, the Caps head to Manhattan for a Thursday night meeting with the New York Rangers. The game against the Blueshirts starts off a three-game road trip and it is also the middle match of three consecutive games against Metropolitan Division opponents in a span of less than 72 hours. The Caps finish that Metro run with a Saturday matinee match against the Penguins in Pittsburgh, and the road trip concludes on Monday night in Buffalo.
Wednesday's loss to the Flyers came in Washington's lone home game during a span in which it plays five of six on the road. The Caps have been trying to create some traction for more than two months now, mostly unsuccessfully. They are now 14-14-1 in their last 29 games after a torrid 26-6-5 start to the season. In the wake of Wednesday's loss, the Capitals have allowed three or more goals in nine straight games, the first time they've been saddled with that ignominious achievement in nearly 13 years, since they yielded three or more in nine straight games from Feb. 25-March 15, 2007.
Lars Eller's first-period goal enabled the Caps to take a 1-0 lead to the room after 20 minutes of play, but that was the high-water mark of the evening for Washington. Before the first television timeout of the second period, the Caps were whistled for three minor penalties and they went shorthanded four times in the middle frame. After a Travis Konecny goal on the Philly power play was waved off, Konecny went ahead and scored later in the same man advantage, the first of three straight Flyers goals in the period.
Late in the second, the Caps showed signs of life in responding with a Garnet Hathaway goal, leaving them just a goal down headed to the third. But Washington wasn't able to get the game tied on an early power play in the third, and Philly salted the contest away with two in the third.
Washington, which held a 15-point lead over Philadelphia in the Metro standings less than two months ago, now leads the second-place Flyers by just a single point in the chase for the division crown. Philly took three of the four meetings between the two teams this season, limiting Washington to seven goals in the four games and holding the Caps to 1-for-17 (5.9 percent) on the power play.
The Caps had three of the game's first four power plays but couldn't do anything with them. Washington went 0-for-5 with the extra man on the night, and it is 3-for-25 (12%) in its last nine games.
"That's the execution," says Caps coach Todd Reirden, "that's the self-inflicted part of the game that causes you to fret after a game as opposed when you do things constantly, over and over again, and the opposition's goaltender steals the game. That's the situation tonight. We get off to the proper start, and we kind of let them back in the game by not taking advantage of situations of situations that were presented to us to distance ourselves within the game.
"Those are important things that you have to learn going into playoff hockey, especially in March. We've got to keep pushing in that direction."
Heading into the 2019-20 season, the Rangers figured to be an improved bunch, but one that would be hard-pressed to make the playoffs in an ultra-competitive Metro Division. But the Blueshirts went on a second-half spree that put them right on the fringes of the race for a wild card playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
Although they are the seventh-place team in the eight-team Metro, the Rangers are within striking distance of a playoff berth. Ironically, their geography conspires against them. If they were a Western Conference club, the Rangers would be occupying the second wild card spot right now.
Coming out of their midseason break, the Rangers won 12 of 15 games - including five straight at one point - to put themselves in the playoff picture. While the Rangers were roaring their way through that stretch, many of the other Metro teams were mired in mediocrity, enabling the Blueshirts to close ground quickly in the standings.
When they came out of their break on Jan. 31, the Rangers were in seventh place, 11 points off the playoff pace, and they were 23 points in arrears of Washington, the Metro leader. Going into Thursday's game, they're still in seventh place in the Metro, but they're only four points south of the second wild card spot, and they are a dozen points behind the first-place Caps in the standings.
The Rangers have dropped three straight - two of them to Philadelphia and the other to St. Louis - coming into Thursday's game.