Nov. 20 vs. New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden
Time: 8:00 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 106.7 FAN
Washington Capitals 16-3-4
New York Rangers 8-8-2
The Caps conclude a busy and arduous patch of scheduling on Wednesday night when they make the first of their two seasonal visits to Manhattan to take on the New York Rangers. The game is the sixth in 10 nights for the Capitals, who have had to travel after each of the half dozen contests.
Last Friday night in Washington, the Caps turned in arguably their poorest performance of the season in a 5-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens. But they've bounced back strong since, putting together a pair of strong, 60-minute games to win consecutive games at Boston and against Anaheim, respectively.
On Monday night against the Ducks, the Caps jumped out to an early lead on Richard Panik's first goal of the season just 50 seconds after the opening puck drop. Washington maintained a lead for the remainder of the night, rolling to a 5-2 victory over the Ducks.
Signed over the summer to bolster Washington's bottom six, Panik struggled early in the season, then missed 10 games with an upper body injury. Since returning to the lineup last week, he has been buzzing and generating scoring chances, and it was just a matter of time before he found the back of the net.
"He is someone obviously that we feel can add in that regard," says Caps coach Todd Reirden, "but also is a guy who was in on the forecheck, he was physical when he had his chances, he was killing penalties. He is more than just a scorer for us, and that's why we targeted this player in the summer, and our organization went after him. I'm just happy to see him get rewarded with some offense.
"That line, it's been much talked about, trying to get a little something offensively from that group, and we did tonight."
Video: Todd Reirden | November 19
"That line" consisted of Panik, Lars Eller and Travis Boyd, and the trio was solid all night for the Caps. As well as Washington played on Monday, Reirden would probably prefer to keep his lines together as they were for that game. But he may not be able to do so.
During a melee that started behind the Anaheim net late in the second period, Caps winger Garnet Hathaway reacted abruptly and emotionally to a sucker punch from Ducks defenseman Erik Gudbranson, spitting on the Anaheim blueliner. Hathaway incurred a match penalty for the incident, and that penalty comes with an automatic indefinite suspension until the matter is reviewed by the Commissioner.
"I have a lot of time for Garnet Hathaway," said Reirden after Monday's game. "He is a stand-up guy, a first-class guy. He was getting punched by a couple of different guys at once, and lost control of his emotion and did something that there is no place for in the league. So that's disappointing, and he feels terrible about it. He didn't have to talk to anybody today, but he was the first one who said, 'I want to own up for what I did,' and he's not happy about it. That's who he is. He made a mistake, and we'll see where it goes [Tuesday]."
By the time the Capitals departed for New York on Tuesday afternoon, they still had not heard any word regarding Hathaway's fate.
Video: Locker Room | November 19
"I have not heard from the league yet, so I don't have an update for you on that, until they contact me," Reirden told the assembled media on Tuesday afternoon, shortly after the Caps concluded an optional practice at MedStar Capitals Iceplex.
By the time of the Caps' late afternoon arrival in New York, they learned that Hathaway will have a hearing on Wednesday morning, just before Washington's morning skate at Madison Square Garden.
With forwards Carl Hagelin and Nic Dowd both sidelined with upper body injuries, and with virtually no salary cap space with which to work, Washington will likely need to do some maneuvering in the event that Hathaway draws a suspension in addition to his penalty from Monday night.
"Yeah, I think you always have to prepare," says Reirden. "We're going to be making a few transactions here later today or [Wednesday] morning, and it will all combine into the decisions that we make."
Hagelin has missed six games to date, and could be placed on long term injured reserve retroactively should the Caps need to create some salary cap space for a recall from their AHL Hershey affiliate. Reirden acknowledged that was a possible scenario, and if the Caps do go down that road, Hagelin would be eligible to play again until Dec. 2, in the midst of a four-game Washington road trip to Detroit and California.
Just over a month ago, the Caps and Rangers met for the first time this season in DC, with Washington taking a 5-2 decision from the Blueshirts in that Oct. 18 game. Wednesday's game is just the fifth Metropolitan Division game for the Capitals, who have played more games against teams from each of the other three divisions than they have against their fellow Metro denizens.
New York has been idle since Saturday, when it lost a 4-3 decision to the Panthers in Florida. That loss was the Rangers' second in as many games on the trip; they fell 9-3 to the Lightning in Tampa Bay two days earlier.
The Rangers have dropped three of their last four (1-2-1), but over the longer view they have earned a point in six of their last nine (5-3-1). New York is 5-4-2 on home ice this season. Wednesday's game is a one-game homestay for the Rangers; they have a weekend set of back-to-back games in Ottawa on Friday and Montreal on Saturday.