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GAME DAY: Blueshirts Get Busy With Caps Clash

Schedule Ramps Up with 8 in 13 Days; Kakko In, Backstrom Out

by Michael Obernauer

RANGERS vs. CAPITALS, 8pm
Madison Square Garden
NBCSN, 1050 AM

GAME DAY
Rested and ready, the Rangers return home to Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night to take on a team that is rolling.

And after three days off between games, the Blueshirts now embark on their busiest stretch of schedule so far in 2019-20: eight games in a span of 13 days, for a team that has had only 18 games on the schedule so far, fewest in the NHL. The Rangers won't see back-to-back days off again until Dec. 3 and 4.

But they believe there has been recovery time enough that Kaapo Kakko will step back into their lineup for Wednesday night's match with the Washington Capitals after missing back-to-back games with the flu. Kakko scored twice in his most recent game, including the OT winner to beat Pittsburgh last Tuesday, and had heated up with five goals in seven games before the flu bug came and sapped him, and forced him to sit out the first games of his rookie year. 

This upcoming eight-game stretch is an even split, four home and four away, and it kicks off on Broadway, where the Blueshirts are 3-1-1 in their last five games. On Wednesday night they'll get just their second visit from a Metropolitan Division rival, a Caps team that has lost just once in regulation in its last 16 games but will come to the Garden without Nicklas Backstrom (upper body), among others in the shell game they had to play with their roster on Wednesday morning.

Washington's 13-1-2 record in that 16-game stretch has vaulted them to the top of the League standings with 36 points, five points clear of the four-way tie behind them. The Caps are 10-1-1 on the road.

"Everyone knows who we're facing," David Quinn said. "Regardless of our opponent, we've got to play a particular way. We need to keep building. It just so happens we're playing Washington, who's obviously feeling really good about themselves and playing really good hockey, playing at a very high level. We're going to have to continue to build on the things we've done well."

Among those, Artemi Panarin will look to continue to build on his point streak that reached a career high a week ago - it now stands at 11 straight games with a point for Panarin, the NHL's second-longest active streak, with multiple points in five of his last six. His center, Ryan Strome, has 14 points of his own in those 11 games.

With this busy stretch ahead, the Rangers are certain to lean heavily on both their goaltenders, but it will be Henrik Lundqvist to start it off and face the Capitals for the 42nd time in his career. Lundqvist has earned points in three of his last four home starts and has a .912 save percentage on Broadway this season.

"I want to get him back in there. He's played well against Washington," Quinn said. "The way we kind of anticipate what's coming moving forward, I want to get him into a rhythm."

Lundqvist will have one new face in front of him in Tim Gettinger, who is set to make his season debut for the Rangers after his call-up from Hartford on Sunday. The 6-foot-6, 218-pound left winger got into four games for the Rangers a season ago, but has shown a little something new in his 17 games with the Wolf Pack this season, and even in the two practices he has had this week with the big club.

"He had a really good start down there, and he's earned this opportunity," Quinn said. "You could just see, he's here with a little bit more confidence. Last year when he got here I thought he kind of wasn't sure if he belonged, and I think he feels like he's in a different spot in his career now. I think he feels like he belongs.

"A big body who's playing with a lot of confidence. I'm anxious to see him play."

"Just come up here and play like I have been down there - using my size, moving my feet, physical, all that stuff," Gettinger said. "Just keep playing the way I have, and what got me here," adding: "PK for me is big, I've been doing it the last couple years. I really take pride defensively and on the PK."

The Capitals went through roster gymnastics ahead of this match, with Backstrom's upper-body injury only the latest issue to crop up. Garnet Hathaway had a hearing Wednesday morning regarding his match penalty for a spitting incident in Washington's 5-2 win over Anaheim on Monday; with the Caps up against a cap crunch, they summoned four players from AHL Hershey Wednesday morning with one going the other way, while moving Carl Hagelin to long-term injured reserve and Nic Dowd to injured reserve. Washington will be without Backstrom, Hagelin and Dowd - upper-body injuries all - and in all likelihood Hathaway on Wednesday night.

But all that still leaves them with their leading goal-scorer in Alex Ovechkin, who has scored 15 goals this season - third in the NHL - with 12 of them coming on the road. And it leaves them with their leading scorer in John Carlson, whose 35 points through 23 games are tied for third in the NHL and make him the only defenseman in the top 10 in League scoring. 

Braden Holtby is expected to oppose Lundqvist in goal, putting his own seven-game winning streak, and 11-game points streak (10-0-1) on the line.

"I think everyone feels really good right now after a day off and two good practice days," Strome said. "Washington is always a good test."


PROJECTED LINEUPS

RANGERS
10 Panarin - 16 Strome - 17 Fast
20 Kreider - 72 Chytil - 89 Buchnevich
48 Lemieux - 21 Howden - 24 Kakko
26 Gettinger - 14 McKegg - 42 Smith

25 Hajek - 8 Trouba
76 Skjei - 77 DeAngelo
55 Lindgren - 23 Fox

30 Lundqvist
40 Georgiev

CAPITALS
8 Ovechkin - 92 Kuznetsov - 43 Wilson
13 Vrana - 20 Eller - 77 Oshie
14 Panik - 23 Sgarbossa - 72 Boyd
47 Malenstyn - 18 Stephenson - 28 Leipsic

6 Kempny - 74 Carlson
9 Orlov - 33 Gudas
34 Siegenthaler - 3 Jensen

70 Holtby
30 Samsonov


NUMBERS GAME

Henrik Lundqvist will play for the 869th time in the regular season, moving him past Grant Fuhr into 10th place all-time among goaltenders. Lundqvist's 453 victories put him one behind Curtis Joseph for fifth place all-time.

Lundqvist has 21 of his wins against the Capitals, tied with Mike Richter for most by a Ranger goaltender.

Tony DeAngelo's six goals are already a career high and place him in a tie for fourth among NHL blueliners. DeAngelo is the first Rangers defenseman with six goals through 18 games since Brian Leetch in 1993-94.

John Carlson leads Washington with 35 points, with Alex Ovechkin next at 25. Since Ovechkin entered the League in 2005-06, in only two seasons has someone else led the Capitals in scoring: Evgeny Kuznetsov in 2015-16, and Nicklas Backstrom in 2016-17.

Alex Ovechkin's next power-play goal will be his 255th, tying Teemu Selanne for third-most all-time. Twelve of Ovechkin's 15 goals this year have come in visiting rinks.

Braden Holtby was 1-1-2 through five games this season with a 4.27 GAA and .846 save percentage. Since then he is 10-0-1, 2.40/.926.

Washington has scored five or more goals nine times in their 23 games this season.


PLAYERS TO WATCH

Ryan Strome has points in 12 of the last 16 games, 18 points in all. His 27:57 on ice and 18 faceoff wins Saturday in Florida both were career highs; his 15 points in 22 games against Washington also marks a career best against any opponent. Strome will play in his 82nd game as a Ranger.

Jakub Vrana, a 24-goal scorer a year ago, scored his 10th of this season on Monday night in a win over Anaheim, one of three Caps in double digits (Ovechkin 15, Oshie 10). Vrana will play his 200th career game Wednesday night and is two points shy of 100 in the NHL.

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