-- Despite the fact that the Rangers play in Philadelphia on Saturday and the Capitals have been off since Thursday, NBC Sports Network analyst Jeremy Roenick
said New York will have a significant advantage in Sunday's NHL on NBC Game of the Week at Madison Square Garden (12:30 p.m. ET; NBC. NHLN-Canada, RDSI).
"Advantage Rangers, because they're coming off of big wins and high competition, so their adrenaline is going to be flowing," Roenick told NHL.com Friday from the Bellagio, where he was attending Wayne Gretzky
's Fantasy Camp. "I always found it better playing a back-to-back, getting right back into it. You don't have time to think. When you have time to think about something and stew over something, let it sink in, it's not good. I think advantage Rangers."
There are other reasons why Roenick believes the Rangers have the advantage.
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One big one is in goal with Henrik Lundqvist
, who entered play Friday night second in the NHL in both goals-against average (1.80) and save percentage (.939) as well as fifth in wins (24) and tied for first in shutouts (six).
"He has to be the leader in the clubhouse right now for the Vezina Trophy," Roenick said. "This guy has been the most consistent goalie all year."
Roenick also had high praise for the job coach John Tortorella has done with the first-place Rangers this season, as well as the work of the team's defensemen, namely Dan Girardi
, Marc Staal
, Ryan McDonagh
and Michael Del Zotto
"Having (Brad) Richards gives them a new dynamic and (Marian) Gaborik is very good, but their defense is what makes this team special," Roenick said. "When you have Girardi, Staal, McDonagh and Del Zotto all playing the way that they do, sacrificing the way that they do -- I don't know if there is a defense in the League that sacrifices for their goalie more than the Rangers. That's why they win hockey games. They are tough to beat."
Richards has been slumping and was recently demoted to the fourth line, but he scored the overtime winner Thursday against the Lightning. It was only his second goal and fourth point in the last 13 games.
"But the younger guys see that Richards is not a guy that is going to mope and pout," Roenick said in defense of Richards. "He's a proud player. He's won a Stanley Cup. He's won the Conn Smythe. He knows what it takes. Everybody goes through slumps and Richards understands that, but it's the attitude that the players see from him that makes a difference. He's a world-class player, no question, and he's been a big difference maker in that locker room."
Roenick couldn't offer similar praise about the Capitals. He said the team's two biggest problems right now have to do with injuries and an identity crisis.
(abdominal surgery) and Nicklas Backstrom
(concussion) are on injured reserve and the Capitals haven't won back-to-back games since mid-January. They are back in ninth place in the Eastern Conference due to the games-played tiebreaker with the Florida Panthers
in the race for the Southeast Division lead. The Capitals are a tiebreaker out of third place and one point out of eighth.
"When they lose, they don't lose by much. It's a one goal game a lot of the time. They're in a lot of games," Roenick said. "But, I still don't see them having an identity.
"You know the Boston Bruins
are a crash-and-bash team. They're united, they fight for each other, and they battle for each other. Detroit is the ultimate team. They're so well-structured, disciplined and advanced in their team system. Teams that have their identity seem to be on top all of the time, and I don't see Washington having an identity. Why that is, I don't know. Maybe it is personalities in the locker room. I don't know."
However, Roenick said a road win over the top team in the Eastern Conference in a nationally televised game could be enough for the Capitals to find that identity.
"Washington might be looking to drive them over the hump, to spurt them, and beating the Rangers would be a huge step," Roenick said. "Time is running out for Washington and Florida is not going away, because I see Florida developing an identity. It's time for Washington to develop its identity."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl