RANGERS (2-1-0) at WASHINGTON (2-0-1)
Season Series -- This is the first matchup of the season between the teams. Washington took three of four matchups in 2008-09, then erased a 3-1 deficit to eliminate the Rangers in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Big Story -- Michael Del Zotto and Matt Gilroy are supposed to still be in the developmental stage, but the Rangers' rookie defensemen have been terrific in the early going. Del Zotto, 19, already has a pair of goals and Gilroy -- who signed with the club as a free agent after a tremendous run at Boston University -- broke a 2-2 tie with his first NHL goal on Monday night in New Jersey. Meanwhile, Washington is off to a solid start. After winning their first two games, the Caps dropped a wild 6-5 overtime decision at Philadelphia. Seven of the game's 11 goals were scored in the second period.
Rangers -- As well as New York's blue line has performed, Thursday night presents a huge challenge for the Blueshirts, who've never done well in their efforts to stop Alex Ovechkin. The Russian superstar already has five goals this season, well ahead of his pace in 2008-09, when he finished with 56. Offensively, free-agent signee Marian Gaborik has been everything the Rangers were hoping for thus far. The oft-injured winger has two goals and two assists in the team's first three games.
Capitals -- As expected, Washington has shown just how potent its offense truly is. The Caps are averaging five goals per game thus far, with Ovechkin tallying one-third of the team's total. Ovechkin -- the No. 1 selection in the 2004 Entry Draft -- has 224 career goals in 327 games.
That being said, Caps coach Bruce Boudreau is concerned with his team's defensive play. Washington allowed three third-period goals in a 6-4 victory over Toronto on Saturday before Tuesday's track meet in Philadelphia.
"We can't afford to allow 10 goals in two games," Boudreau said. "You're not going to win a lot of hockey games. I don't care who you have on your team."
Who's Hot -- Ovechkin. Not only has No. 8 already scored five goals, but he's also added four assists for nine points and a plus-6 rating. It is the first time in Ovechkin's career that he has recorded three or more points in as many as three straight games. Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Brooks Laich have combined for 12 goals on 41 shots.
Del Zotto has two goals in his first three NHL games for the Rangers, while Brandon Dubinsky has four points (2-2-4 has a plus-5 rating. Henrik Lundqvist has a 2.36 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage.
Injury Report -- Rangers left wing Sean Avery missed the team's first three games with a strained MCL in his right knee. He will miss Thursday's game, but the Blueshirts are hopeful No. 16 will make his season debut at Madison Square Garden on Sunday against Anaheim.
Washington is still without forward Tomas Fleischmann, who suffered a blood clot in his leg last spring. He could return later this month. Right wing Eric Fehr is out with a shoulder injury, but has resumed skating.
Stat Pack -- After starting the season 0-for-9 on the power play in their first two games, the Rangers found the back of the net twice with the man advantage in New Jersey on Monday. Del Zotto and Ales Kotalik, both newcomers to the club, beat Martin Brodeur in the victory.
While Ovechkin gets the majority of the attention in Washington, the Rangers would be foolish to not keep a close eye on center Nicklas Backstrom. The 21-year-old has eight assists in three games.
Puck Drop -- The Rangers will be out for revenge after losing to the Caps in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in a series New York had all but wrapped up after the first four games. Still, they must stay focused on the task at hand and be smart with the puck in their own end of the ice, otherwise Ovechkin & Co. could make them pay severely.
This will be a good test for Washington as well -- the Caps showed on Tuesday that they have to make some adjustments in their own end and cut down on the Grade-A chances they've allowed in the last two games.
-- Brian Compton, NHL.com