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Rangers Face Capitals for First Time This Season

Blueshirts Look for First Road Victory of Young Season

by Matt Calamia @MattCalamia /

WASHINGTON D.C. -- Despite being .500 through four games this season, the Rangers could not be happier with the way they've played over the first week plus of the 2016-17 season.

In fact, it could be argued the team's best two 60-minute efforts came in defeat, first last weekend in St. Louis when the Rangers outshot the Blues 15-0 in the final period, and again Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden against the Red Wings, a game in which goaltender Jimmy Howard stood on his head in leading his team to two points.

Now another test awaits the Rangers, this time in Washington D.C. against the defending Presidents Trophy-winning Capitals Saturday night at Verizon Center.

Head coach Alain Vigneault has little to be unhappy about with the way his team has played on both sides of the puck. In wins, they've outscored opponents by five goals, and in losses, they've allowed just five against.

"I'm happy with the way we're playing. We could easily be sitting here 4-0 the way we played in those games, both offensively and defensively," Vigneault said Friday afternoon. "I like the way our team is playing. We have to go into Washington tomorrow and play a real strong game."

While Vigneault is happy with the way his team has played, that did not stop him from juggling lines at practice. He moved Mats Zuccarello up to play with the red hot duo of Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad, who have combined for 12 points through four games. Zuccarello is off to a good start himself with four points in four contests.

Rick Nash was slotted alongside Derek Stepan - his penalty killing partner - and rookie Jimmy Vesey. Winger Michael Grabner was moved up alongside Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller, while Jesper Fast moved to a line with Josh Jooris and Brandon Pirri.

With all that said, Vigneault said he was still undecided whether those would be the lines come gametime Saturday night.

"I just wanted to get a look [Friday] morning at maybe trying Zucc with Mika," Vigneault said. "I'm not 100 percent sure if we'll go that way. Step and Nasher do play together shorthanded, they have played together a lot in the past."

The defense could have a shakeup as well, as Dan Girardi practiced Friday - though he did rotate with Dylan McIlrath alongside the injured Oscar Lindberg on the fourth defensive pair. Vigneault said Girardi would probably not play both games this weekend, though he could get one.

Henrik Lundqvist is expected to get the start. He is 19-9-4 with a 2.65 GAA and a .906 save percentage with four shutouts for his career against the Capitals.

Washington enters Saturday's matchup 3-0-1 on the season and fresh off a 4-2 win Thursday against the Florida Panthers. As has been the case for the past decade, Alex Ovechkin is right near the top of the Capitals' scoring leaders with two goals and an assist in four games this season.

Goaltender Braden Holtby is 2-0-1 with a 1.63 goals against average and a .938 save percentage in three starts this season. 

"They've kind of picked up right where they left off with their group last year," Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh said. "It's going to be a huge challenge, especially in that arena. They get a lot of energy from their crowd. We'll be hopefully ready for a good test right away off the bat, try and get a good lead on them and see where it takes us from there."

Rangers at Capitals

7 pm at Verizon Center

Pregame coverage begins on MSG Network at 6:30 pm

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