Playoff meetings in each of the past three seasons and four in the last five years make for plenty of recent history between the Capitals and Rangers. Wednesday night the two teams will face off for the first time since May 13 when New York handed the Capitals a 5-0 thrashing in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals at Verizon Center.
While some of the frustration following that loss lingers with the players, it’s a new season. Both Washington and New York are simply looking for wins after starting the year 2-4-0 and 1-4-0, respectively.
“The two teams that played last year [in the playoffs] have both struggled so far,” said Coach Adam Oates, who acknowledged the Rangers are familiar players they’re no longer using the same system that was a fixture in all those postseason matchups.
“They’ve given up way more goals than you ever would have expected,” Oates said. “They’re not the same team right now.”
The shot-blocking, defensive juggernaut Rangers that existed under John Tortorella seem like a different lifetime at this juncture as the Blueshirts struggle under new Coach Alain Vigneault. Before Tuesday night’s games, New York had allowed a league-high average of five goals against per contest having allowed 25 in its first five games.
The Rangers lost their last three contests, to San Jose, Anaheim and St. Louis, by a combined score of 20-5. And goaltender Henrik Lundqvist looks nothing like the Vezina finalist and save machine everyone had grown accustomed to allowing 16 goals against on 141 shots for a .887 save percentage and 4.21 GAA.
While most current Capitals are quite well versed in New York’s individual strengths and weaknesses, they’re taking a similar approach to what they would with a more unfamiliar team. After all, this is the first time Washington will see the Rangers with a new system and approach to the game.
“I’m excited to see what their new style is like,” Karl Alzner said. “It was always really frustrating playing against them because as D you could never get a puck through. They’re super tough on the forecheck, it was a hard game for us. I’m curious to see what they’re going to be like and how they’re going to play their guys differently. You know in the back of their head they still have a little bit of Tortorella barking at them, so I’m sure we’ll still see a few of the same things.”