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Surging Rangers set to host Capitals

by Mike Battaglino

CAPITALS (22-18-8) at RANGERS (26-21-3)


Last 10: Washington 2-4-4; New York 7-2-1

Season series: The Washington Capitals have won two in a row after losing their first to the New York Rangers. Eric Fehr scored with 5:09 remaining in the third period to give the Capitals a 3-2 win on Dec. 27.

Big story: Since that game right after the Christmas break, the teams have traded places in the Metropolitan Division standings. Washington was in second place but has fallen to fourth. New York was fifth but sits in second after a 4-1 win against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday afternoon.

"You look [at the standings] every day," Capitals coach Adam Oates told Monumental Network after practice Saturday. "Honestly, it doesn't matter to me, there's a lot of hockey left. If you don't play good, you're not going to be there; you've got to play good. It's as simple as that."

Team Scope:

Capitals: Washington mixed up its lines at practice at Nationwide Arena, where it lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-1 on Friday. Among the changes was a split of forwards Jason Chimera and Joel Ward, who have been together all 48 games this season.

"But just for today in practice, I split up the twins, y'know," Oates said with a smile. "I asked them both, 'Are you going to be OK without their buddy,' right? Just to get a little life out there."

Chimera said, "We're more like twins, but the movie 'Twins.' … All joking aside, you have to do something 5-on-5 to get it going. … It's nice to get a different look sometimes and hopefully that'll make a difference."

Oates reunited Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom later in the game against Columbus, but would not commit to keeping them together Sunday.

"There's pros and cons to everything," Oates said. "I thought last night when I put them back together, it looked like they clicked instantly. There's a certain chemistry. When you're used to watching someone, there's a certain symmetry to their game, that all of a sudden I saw it right away. So then you're like, 'Maybe I should keep them together.' But there's times when you have to break them up."

Goalie Philipp Grubauer started Friday but was pulled early in the second period, replaced by Braden Holtby.

Rangers: After starting 6-10-2 at home, New York is 5-1-1 in its past seven at Madison Square Garden. In that seven-game stretch, the Rangers have allowed more than two goals once, with three one-goal games and a shutout.

"It's just our consistent effort," defenseman Marc Staal said. "The way we come back, and the forwards helping the [defensemen]. All that stuff helps you have the puck and control it, and we've been able to have the puck lately, and it's helped us win some games."

Goalie Henrik Lundqvist is expected to make his seventh start in eight games, and 10th in 12, since sitting out three straight. He is on a 6-2-1 run.

This is one of six home games sandwiched around two 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series games at Yankee Stadium next week.

Who's hot: Mikhail Grabovski is plus-3 in his past six games and is the only Capitals forward who is plus for the season (plus-6). … Rangers forward Rick Nash has five goals in the past seven games. Forward Brad Richards has nine points (four goals) in the past eight. Forward Mats Zuccarello has 10 points (five goals) in the past 11.

Injury report: Capitals defenseman Jack Hillen (broken leg) was back skating Wednesday. … Rangers forward Carl Hagelin was hit by a shot in the third period Saturday, but remained in the game. Forward Derek Dorsett (broken fibula) is out.

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