Not only will the Rangers face the red-hot Washington Capitals tonight at Madison Square Garden searching to improve on their recent overall struggles, but they will do so again without two of their top defensemen, Kevin Klein and Dan Girardi, both of whom remain out injured.
Klein took part in the full morning skate Sunday at the MSG Training Center, but afterwards head coach Alain Vigneault said that he is still feeling soreness in his oblique and thus will miss his tenth consecutive game this evening. He last played on November 30 against the Carolina Hurricanes. Vigneault stated that Klein "possibly" could play Tuesday when the Rangers host the Anaheim Ducks in their final games before the Christmas holiday break.
Girardi did not take part in the morning skate, though he did participate in off-ice workouts Sunday. He will miss his fourth straight contest due to a sore knee.
Once again Chris Summers will be in the Rangers lineup tonight. The 27 year-old defenseman, who was recalled from the Hartford Wolf Pack Saturday morning, logged more than 15 minutes of ice-time in the 5-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets Saturday. It was the fourth game he has played for the Rangers--and first this season--since being acquired from Arizona at the trade deadline last season.
"You can definitely tell right away that the speed of the game is different in the NHL from the AHL, but I thought it went well for me (Saturday)," Summers told BlueshirtsUnited.com.
Summers likely will pair with Dan Boyle on the blue line, while Marc Staal skates with Ryan McDonagh, and Keith Yandle pairs with Dylan McIlrath.
Up front Vigneault said he is unsure which forward will be tonight's healthy scratch, though he did add that Oscar Lindberg--who was scratched Saturday in Winnipeg--will return to the lineup.
"It's a combination of a young rookie player going through the process, it's a long season, and I thought his overall play both with and without the puck had slipped a little bit in the decisions that he was making," Vigneault said of Lindberg. "Sometime time off helps them bounce back and I hope that's the case with Oscar."
The Rangers are just 1-4-1 in their last six games. Vigneault called it a "challenging stretch" that has extended to 3-8-2 the last 13 games.
"I do believe that a tough stretch like this where you're being challenged, when you're being tested mentally, makes everyone better and will make our team better," stated Vigneault.
The Capitals are 11-1-1 in their last 13 games and hold a six-point lead on the Rangers for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.
That adds to the challenge the Rangers face this evening at The Garden.
"They're a very good hockey team and there's a lot of history between us," noted alternate captain Marc Staal. "It's always intense, emotional, competitive. A good division foe at home. We'll bring out our best game, and that's what we need to be against these guys."
Henrik Lundqvist starts in goal for the Rangers on Sunday, and he will be backed up again by fellow Swede Magnus Hellberg. Antti Raanta remains sidelined with a head injury.
Lundqvist will be opposed between the pipes by Washington's Braden Holtby, who leads the NHL with 20 wins and a 1.71 GAA.
"You could see early on his talent and his ability to win his team games, and that's a sign of a good goaltender," Staal said of Holtby. "He's been doing that for them very consistently this year, which is not a surprise at all."