CAPITALS (8-2-0) at RANGERS (7-2-2)
TV: TVA Sports, CSN-DC, MSG
NEW YORK -- A win by the Washington Capitals against the New York Rangers on Tuesday won't make up for losing to them in Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Second Round last season, but the Capitals feel it could do something for the psyche of the two teams this season.
"You always want to throw that element of doubt into your opponent, like, 'Alright, these guys are for real, this is a little different team, they want it,'" Capitals right wing Justin Williams said. "You always want to give them that sense of anxiousness that when we're at our best, we're better than you."
The Capitals have that chance at Madison Square Garden, where their 2014-15 season ended on Derek Stepan's overtime goal that capped the Rangers comeback from a 3-1 series deficit.
While according to the standings first place in the Metropolitan Division is on the line Tuesday, as Williams noted, the game takes on a bigger meaning for each team. It's really a measuring-stick game for the Capitals and Rangers.
Washington is 8-2-0 through 10 games, but its eight wins have come against teams with a combined record of 38-48-8 and its two losses have come versus teams with a combined record of 13-9-0 (San Jose Sharks, Pittsburgh Penguins).
"I think we've got another level," center Nicklas Backstrom said.
The Rangers are similar in that they're 7-2-2 through 11 games, but their seven wins have come against teams that are a combined 27-50-4 and their four losses are against teams that are 28-15-4, including 3-0 at the Montreal Canadiens, who lead the NHL with 11 wins and 22 points.
"The way Montreal has been playing, that was a real tough one for us and we got taken to school on that night, but there's no doubt that Washington is one of the elite teams in the League and they're playing real well," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "I'm sure that they're excited about tonight and so are we."
Each team has been winning, but with some causes for concern.
The Capitals, notorious for having one of the best power plays in the NHL, are 0-for-7 in their past three games and as a result have scored only five goals. They lost 3-1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but won 2-1 games against the Columbus Blue Jackets and Florida Panthers.
It won't help Washington that the Rangers haven't allowed a power play goal in seven straight games. They didn't even give up a power-play opportunity in their 3-1 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs last Friday. They have the fifth lowest PK time in the League (54:11).
"We gotta execute a little bit better on our power play," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "It's been different things. One night it's good goaltending when our power play is clicking and not finding the back of the net, the next night our breakouts aren't real crisp and therefore you don't get anything, and the next night it's in zone execution."
The Rangers are 4-0-2 in their past six games, but it hasn't stopped Vigneault from making some changes to the lineup to shake things up a bit.
Defenseman Dylan McIlrath will play in his second game of the season in place of Dan Boyle, and forward J.T. Miller has been shuttled down to the fourth line in place of Viktor Stalberg, who is back in the lineup on the third line after missing the past two games with a head injury.
Vigneault said Boyle is out because he hasn't delivered as promised. He has two assists in 10 games.
"I'm expecting a little quicker decisions with the puck," Vigneault said. "I think his defensive play has been good and he's been strong in his one-on-one situations, but with the puck I need a little bit more from Dan. That's why we brought him here, to help us with that puck movement and on the power play. He's aware of that and he's working on it."
Here are the projected lineups:
Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - T.J. Oshie
Marcus Johansson - Nicklas Backstrom - Justin Williams
Jason Chimera - Jay Beagle - Andre Burakovsky
Brooks Laich - Chandler Stephenson - Tom Wilson
Brooks Orpik - John Carlson
Karl Alzner - Matt Niskanen
Dmitry Orlov - Nate Schmidt
Scratched: Taylor Chorney, Michael Latta, Stanislav Galiev
Rick Nash - Derick Brassard - Mats Zuccarello
Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Jesper Fast
Oscar Lindberg - Kevin Hayes - Viktor Stalberg
J.T. Miller - Dominic Moore - Jarret Stoll
Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Marc Staal - Kevin Klein
Keith Yandle - Dylan McIlrath
Scratched: Dan Boyle, Emerson Etem
Status report: McIlrath hasn't played since Oct. 13 against the Winnipeg Jets. … Schmidt is playing in his third straight game after being a healthy scratch in five of the previous six.
Who's hot: Kuznetsov has 11 points on five goals and six assists in the past six games. He scored the overtime winner against the Panthers. … Ovechkin, who had two assists against Florida, has a point in eight of the nine games he's played this season. … The Rangers' top line combined for nine points, including a hat trick for Zuccarello, in their win against the Maple Leafs.