It was back to work for the Rangers Monday morning at the MSG Training Center as the team prepares itself for, perhaps, its stiffest test so far this season on Tuesday night, hosting the Washington Capitals at Madison Square Garden. New York and Washington enter play tied for first place in the Metropolitan Division.
It will be the first meeting between these two division rivals this season, and first since the Rangers capped off a thrilling comeback from a 3-1 series deficit on Derek Stepan's Game Seven overtime goal in the second round of the playoffs last spring.
"I am looking forward to it," stated goaltender Henrik Lundqvist after practice. "We've had a lot of great games against this team over the years, and I think the fans like the rivalry, as well."
The Rangers are 6-2-2 through 11 games, while the Capitals are 8-2-0 through ten, each with a division-high 16 points. The Caps have not lost on the road yet this season--4-0-0--and own an overall +11 goal differential already (34-23). New York is 5-1-1 on home ice and has a +10 goal differential (31-21). The Rangers' team 1.82 goals against average is tied for tops in the NHL, while the Capitals' 3.40 goals scored per game is fourth best in the league, setting up an intriguing battle on Tuesday.
"It's going to be a real good game for us to see where our game is at right now," said head coach Alain Vigneault. "With Washington coming in here, playing the way they are right now with their record, should catch everyone's attention."
Vigneault will make a pair of changes to the Rangers lineup Tuesday. Forward Viktor Stalberg returns after a two-game absence due to a head injury, replacing Emerson Etem, while defenseman Dylan McIlrath will play his second game of the season, while Dan Boyle will be scratched.
"Dan Boyle, I have a tremendous amount of respect for a guy that's had that career, he hasn't played bad, but he hasn't played as well as we think, or he thinks, he can play," explained Vigneault. "He's been given every opportunity, so now it's time to see Dylan. This is a big team and I think it could be a good fit for him."
McIlrath paired with Keith Yandle during practice, while Vigneault reunited Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi as the top defense pair. Marc Staal skated with Kevin Klein.
"We were just waiting for it to come back, pairing us two, because we have that familiarity playing together for so long that it helps each one of us out," explained McDonagh, who had bee paired recently with Klein. "We're also very familiar playing together against this team (the Capitals), too, knowing what has given us success in the past."
Up front Stalberg joined Kevin Hayes and Oscar Lindberg on a new-look third line during practice, while J.T. Miller shifted to the fourth line alongside Jarret Stoll and Dominic Moore. Lindberg also worked on the second power play unit for the first time this season, taking the spot of Miller.
Rangers lines, defense pairs, and power play units used during Monday's practice:
Power Play Units: