Gonna Move - Just prior to Washington's Wednesday morning skate at Madison Square Garden, Caps right wing Garnet Hathaway had a hearing with the league concerning an incident from Monday's game with Anaheim, when Hathaway spit on Ducks defenseman Erik Gudbranson after the blueliner sucker punched him while the Washington winger was being held by an official and was unable to defend himself. The upshot of that hearing is a three-game suspension for Hathaway, who will be able to return to the Caps' lineup for their Nov. 29 home game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
And shortly after that hearing, the Caps announced a slew of transactions.
Before the Caps departed for the Big Apple on Tuesday, we knew that forwards Nic Dowd (upper body) and Carl Hagelin (upper body) would not be traveling with the team and would not be playing against New York. On Wednesday, the Caps added center Nicklas Backstrom (upper body) to the list of the ailing, and with Hathaway's status still up in the air at the time as well, they placed Hagelin on long term injured reserve (he'll be eligible to play again on Dec. 3 in San Jose) , which freed up some salary cap space for the recalls.
Washington reassigned goaltender Vitek Vanecek to AHL Hershey, and it recalled netminder Ilya Samosonov, defenseman Tyler Lewington, and forwards Beck Malenstyn and Mike Sgarbossa from Hershey. All four were on the ice with the Caps at Wednesday's morning skate, and both Malenstyn and Sgarbossa will play tonight. Malenstyn will be making his NHL debut, and Sgarbossa will be getting his first taste of NHL duty since April 8, 2017 when he suited up for the Panthers.
Malenstyn was the Caps' fifth-round pick (145th overall) in the 2016 NHL Draft. A second-year pro, he has seven goals and 16 points in 74 games with Hershey last season, and had three goals and six points in 18 games with the Bears in 2019-20.
Video: Beck Malenstyn | November 20
"It was a whirlwind, it happened pretty quickly," says Malenstyn of the call that brought him to New York. "You go in for practice, I'm getting ready to go on the ice, get called into the coaches' room, and that was a pretty special moment. Quick turnaround from there; got on the ice, got a little skate, hopped in the car and got up here [Tuesday] night, so I'm really excited for it."
Malenstyn will make his debut in the most storied of all NHL arenas, Madison Square Garden.
"I think you've got to enjoy it, no matter what," says Caps goalie Braden Holtby, of Malenstyn's debut. "You still have a job to do - to play - but there are not many times like this, and especially in the 'entertainment capital of the world,' [as MSG is billed]. Not many people get to play in this arena, and especially as your first NHL game. So it's something you've really got to soak in. But it definitely makes it more memorable if you have a good game and you win, so that's the main thing."
Nearly a year before his own NHL debut, Holtby served as a Caps' backup goalie on a road trip to New York, so he was able to take warmups and soak in the atmosphere here well ahead of his first NHL game. Washington right wing Tom Wilson debuted in the NHL against the Rangers, doing so in the Stanley Cup playoffs when he was just 19 years old. His first game came in Washington, but he played playoff hockey as a teenager in this hallowed barn.
"It's fun for everybody to have that in the locker room tonight," says Wilson. "It's a great rink. It's a lot of fun coming here, no matter what point in your career it is. When it's your first one, I had a similar kind of memory coming in here. It's a whirlwind, and a lot of special stuff happened in this place. It's a fun one, and we'll enjoy it with him."
Malenstyn has seen some preseason NHL action over the last few autumns, but tonight is the real deal.
"It was unbelievable," he says of taking the morning skate here, "It didn't really sink in until you stepped out there. It's such a historic rink with so much that has gone on in it, so you dream it watching as a kid. It's pretty cool to live it in real life."
Sgarbossa is a 27-year-old center who was undrafted after a solid junior hockey career with Saginaw and Sudbury of the OHL. He later signed with San Jose, and has since played in six different AHL cities, and Washington will be his fourth NHL stop. Sgarbossa has amassed 48 games over parts of four seasons in the league with Colorado, Anaheim and Florida.
Video: Michael Sgarbossa | November 20
Sgarbossa signed with Washington on July 1, 2018, and he spent all of last season with Hershey, where he totaled 30 goals and 65 points. He had seven goals and 14 points in 17 games with the Bears prior to his recall this season.
In training camp two months ago, Sgarbossa was impressive. He was one of the last players cut, and was in the mix to get a couple of early games with the Caps while Evgeny Kuznetsov was sitting out his three-game NHL suspension.
"I'm excited," says Sgarbossa. "Anytime you get a chance, you want to make the most of it. I had a good camp, and I had a good exit meeting with the staff. I know that they were happy with what I did. It becomes a numbers game, and as a player that's trying to make it still, you just have to put in the work when you go down to the minors, and continue to believe that you're going to get called up eventually, and put in the work in the offseason. That's what I did.
"I knew the chance would come. It's unfortunate how the chance happens - because of injuries - but a guy in my position has to take advantage of it."
Road Warriors - Washington is 10-1-1 in its dozen road games this season, and it is 8-0-1 in its last nine games outside then District. Tonight in New York, the Caps are seeking to match the longest road point streak in franchise history, a mark that has stood since the 1982-83 season. The Capitals went 6-0-4 in a stretch of 10 road contests from Nov. 24, 1982 to Jan. 6, 1983.
Coming off a pair of strong outings in Boston on Saturday and against Anaheim on Monday, the Caps will look to build on those performances despite a forward corps that has seen changes to three of the four lines.
"We've changed things up," says Caps coach Todd Reirden, "but the players will have a clear understanding of the expectation on each given line, that's why we set them up the way I did for this morning's skate. We'll see if those change at all later in the day here, but that's potentially what you can expect to see tonight, which would give us some balance, and a little bit of a different look to every line.
"So it's important that we play to our identity, and whatever players that involves, we have to play a fast game, using our speed, being aggressive as we can all over the ice, and making sure that we're physical whenever we get in those situations."
Video: Todd Reirden Pregame | November 2
The defense and the first line remain the same in the wake of all the changes.
"I think we've been pretty fortunate here over the years," says Wilson, "not too many guys that were out of the lineup. But whenever someone did have an injury or whatever, the guys that came in did a phenomenal job. We've got a pretty deep group, and everyone that comes in has done a great job.
"We're happy with the guys that are here, we're happy with the group. It's an opportunity for everybody to get out there and show what they can do. We've got the privilege of having some pretty good talent in this room, no matter what line you're playing on and who you're playing with. We have the opportunity to go out there and get the job done, and that doesn't change tonight. We're excited for the challenge and we're going to have to bring a good game tonight."
In The Nets - Braden Holtby will be in goal for Washington on Wednesday, seeking his eighth straight victory and aiming to improve his point streak (10-0-1) to a dozen straight. Over those last 11 starts, Holtby has fashioned a 2.40 GAA and a .926 save pct. He has permitted two or fewer goals in four straight games, and in five of his last six.
Lifetime against the Rangers, Holtby is 13-9-1 with a shutout, a 2.40 GAA and a .920 save pct.
For the Rangers, Henrik Lundqvist will be in goal. With 453 career wins, Lundqvist is one victory shy of matching Curtis Joseph for fifth place on the league's all-time wins ledger.
Lifetime against the Capitals, Lundqvist is 21-13-7 with four shutouts, a 2.80 GAA and a .905 save pct.
All Lined Up - Here is a look at how we expect the Capitals and the Rangers to look on Wednesday night in the Big Apple when they get together for the second of their four meetings this season:
8-Ovechkin, 92-Kuznetsov, 43-Wilson
13-Vrana, 20-Eller, 77-Oshie
14-Panik, 23-Sgarbossa, 72-Boyd
47-Malenstyn, 18-Stephenson, 28-Leipsic
19-Backstrom (upper body)
26-Dowd (upper body)
62-Hagelin (upper body)
10-Panarin, 16-Strome, 17-Fast
20-Kreider, 72-Chytil, 89-Buchnevich
48-Lemieux, 21-Howden, 24-Kakko
42-Smith, 14-McKegg, 25-Gettinger
93-Zibanejad (upper body)