The Capitals and Rangers face off at 8 p.m. at Verizon Center tonight in the rivalry spotlight created by national television. But that or any residual bitterness at facing the team that eliminated them in the playoffs each of the past two seasons isn’t at the forefront of the Capitals’ minds.
“They have bad start, we have bad start. It’s kind of situation where we both have to win. It’s going to be a good battle, going to be a good game,” said Alex Ovechkin, who added that he didn’t spend the summer dwelling on last spring’s defeat. “Nothing. That’s done. As soon as you finish play hockey, season is over. You have to concentrate on different things, get ready mentally for next year. That’s what I did and that’s what I think all players have to do.”
Washington captured its first regulation win of the young season Monday night, and with two games left in this five-game homestand, the team is looking to build off of that victory. Faltering against the Rangers won’t help them make any tangible progress.
So the Capitals aren’t focused on what happened last year, or even how much more space they might have to shoot at with Henrik Lundqvist in net, thanks to the changes in goaltending equipment. The mindset after the morning skate Wednesday was the need to put New York on its heels early and try to take control of the contest from the start, rather than needing to work through a rough first period as has been the case so often this season.
“If you can jump on them early, get one or two quick ones in the first period, and get a lead maybe they play with a little bit of doubt in their minds,” Brooks Laich said.
“We’re at a sub-.500 record, which is not acceptable. Coming up in the close future here we have a five game road trip…. We have to start making hay, need to start winning games and putting a streak together — not just win one, win two, lose one. We need to put some five, six, seven, eight-game winning streaks together and get our record up, get ourselves up in the standings where we want to be.”
With games every other day the Capitals have a relatively limited amount of time to do advance preparation on a particular opponent, but Coach Adam Oates has noticed some tendencies similar to what New York has done in the past. The Rangers still collapse into their own zone, but they don’t appear to quite have a feel for exactly when yet in their new framework.
Taking advantage of New York’s uncertainty and the growing pains that go along with installing a new system will be part of what the Capitals have to look for.
“I think maybe the situations are a little different when they do collapse, and I think that’s part of what they’re going through,” Oates said. “When you get a little tentative, it’s hard for everybody to understand where to go and it affects the big picture.”