February 28 vs. New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Radio: 104.7 FM and Capitals Radio 24/7
Washington Capitals 41-13-7
New York Rangers 40-20-2
Washington finishes off a two-game road trip and the February portion of the 2016-17 schedule with its second and final visit to Manhattan to face the New York Rangers on Tuesday night.
The Caps finished last week with three games in three different cities in a span of just 72 hours, then they spent/are spending the next 72 hours in Manhattan (with no games!) ahead of Tuesday's game with the Rangers. Washington won two of those last three games, despite playing the last two of those three games without four regular players.
Video: Rinkside Update: Nicklas Backstrom
Most recently, the Caps dropped a 5-2 decision to the Predators on Saturday night in Nashville. The setback was only Washington's second loss by more than one goal in the team's last 39 games, and both of those multiple-goal defeats came in the second game of a set of back-to-back contests.
The Caps are 28-6-5 over that 39-game span. Four of the team's regulation losses during that stretch came in the second half of a back-to-back set, and the other two came in their first games back in action after the NHL's holiday and All-Star breaks.
Saturday's game in Music City was Washington's fifth in a span of eight days coming out of its bye week, and the Caps went 2-2-1 during that stretch. They've played well over the lion's share of each of those five games, but their pre-bye week precision and consistency is still lacking. A poor first period cost them last Sunday against the Rangers in New York, and a dismal second period was the difference on Saturday against the Preds.
During the course of Wednesday's 4-1 win over the Flyers in Philadelphia, the Capitals - already playing without third-line right wing Andre Burakosvky - lost three regulars to injury. Defensemen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik were both sidelined with lower body injuries while T.J. Oshie suffered an upper body ailment.
Defenseman Aaron Ness and right wing Riley Barber were summoned from AHL Hershey, and both acquitted themselves well in Friday's 2-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers at Verizon Center.
After enjoying an off day in Manhattan on Sunday, the Caps convened in Newark for an afternoon practice on Monday in preparation for Tuesday's tilt against the Rangers. Niskanen, Orpik and Oshie were all back on the ice with their teammates, although only Niskanen stayed on the ice for the duration of the session. It's still not known whether any of them have improved to the point where they'll be ready to take the ice against the Rangers.
Video: Coach Trotz after Monday's practice in NY
"They're all day-to-day," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. " We're going to [conduct our] morning skate [Tuesday]. Everything is trending the right way, so we'll have a better answer [Tuesday]."
Niskanen noted after practice that he has improved incrementally since sustaining the injury in the second period of Wednesday's game against Philly.
"I had a couple days of not going on the ice; just treatment," says Niskanen. "I skated by myself in Nashville [Saturday] morning, with decent results. It was good to be back with the team today and to have a structured practice and not be skating by myself. It was fun to pass the puck to someone. The body is feeling better and better, so I'm headed in the right direction."
Video: Niskanen on returning from injury
When the Caps last visited Madison Square Garden 10 days ago to take on the Rangers in a Sunday matinee match, they didn't necessarily put their best foot forward. The Caps were playing the back half of a set of back-to-back games, and the start time in New York was less than 24 hours removed from the previous day's start time. Additionally, the game was the Capitals' second after the completion of their bye week.
Washington spent most of the first period under siege in its own end of the ice, and it surrendered a single-period high of 19 shots on net in the game's first frame, including nine that came from inside of 25 feet away. Only an otherworldly performance in the net from Philipp Grubauer and a well-played coach's challenge on the part of the Caps' video coaching staff and Trotz kept the game within Washington's reach after that first period.
This time around, the Caps should be the more rested team. They've been cooling their collective heels in Manhattan since arriving here on Saturday night, and the Rangers hosted Columbus at MSG on Sunday, absorbing a 5-2 beating at the hands of the Blue Jackets.
Is Tuesday's game a good chance for the Caps to put a better foot forward against the Rangers, the only Eastern Conference team they have yet to defeat this season?
Video: Wilson on practicing on the top line
"Yeah, I think so," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "I think we had a tough first; we didn't have a lot of detail. We got the detail back in the second and third [periods] and I thought we played pretty well. I felt we should have gotten a point out that, based on the second and third, but not necessarily the first. Hopefully, we're ready to put a little better performance together."
For the Rangers, Tuesday's game against the Capitals is their fifth in the last eight nights. Even with the loss to the Jackets on Sunday, the Rangers are rolling along quite nicely. New York is 9-2-1 in its last dozen games, with both regulation setbacks during that span coming against Metropolitan Division foes (the Islanders and the Jackets).
Heading into Tuesday's game, New York sits in fourth place in the Metropolitan Division, comfortably ahead of the fifth-place New York Islanders by 14 points. Along with the Capitals, the Rangers are one of only two teams in the league to reach the 40-win level so far this season. Although they stand fourth in the Metro, the Rangers own the league's sixth-best record from a points percentage (.661) standpoint.