The Metropolitan Division may be mediocre, but at this stage of the season it’s created a logjam of teams. Only five points separate the six teams from sixth place to seventh, and victories gained in divisional matchups will prove beneficial down the road for any club.
On Sunday night, the Capitals, who reside in second place with a one-point edge on the New York Rangers, will face their familiar foes in Madison Square Garden.
It’s been nearly two months since these two teams met back on Oct. 16, when the Rangers handed Washington a decisive 2-0 defeat despite being in the midst of a dreadful 2-6 start to the season in Alain Vigneault’s first year as coach on Broadway. New York has improved on that start and gone 13-8-1 since but, like the Capitals, is still searching for stability.
If the Capitals are to build off Saturday’s win, their first regulation victory since Nov. 17, they’ll need to come out with a repeat performance of a strong start and the ability to fight off an opponent’s expected push.
“It’s got to be a physical game and it’s got to be a high-tempo game,” Eric Fehr said. “I think it’s going to be very similar to [Saturday’s] game just battles behind the goal lines. Some big players on both sides so we’re going to have to try to win those.”
Neither the Capitals nor the Rangers held a morning skate as both played the night before – New York fell 4-3 in overtime to the Devils – and Madison Square Garden is occupied with a Knicks-Celtics contest so lineup confirmations will have to wait until both coaches speak roughly two hours before puck drop.
But given that Coach Adam Oates was able to manage minutes thanks to an early lead against the Predators – no player skated more than Mike Green’s 24:52 – don’t be surprised if he sticks with the same lineup. Braden Holtby finished with 34 saves, held up well against Nashville and may very well get the call Sunday to make his seventh straight start. Oates has said before he doesn’t see splitting back-to-back games between goaltenders as a necessity, if a netminder is atop a team’s depth chart they should be able to handle the workload.
As for the Rangers, Henrik Lundqvist is expected to start but the Blueshirts may be without one of their top defensemen. Marc Staal left the Rangers’ loss to New Jersey in the third period Saturday night and may have suffered a concussion according to ESPN’s Katie Strang.