Photo: Alex Brandon / Associated Press
It’s “Rivalry Night”, kiddos, and there’s nearly no better rivalry in the NHL right now than the Capitals and the Rangers.
Last time around– can you believe we’ve only played them once this season? — didn’t go so hot. We were fumbling and they were ascending. Things have turned around a bit, but tonight’s match is really just the beginning of the end of regular season play. We’ve only got three chances to nail these guys, and chance one starts tonight.
Both teams are coming off wins, but very different ones at that. The Sabres’ face-plant against the Caps was hardly a meaningful test, unlike Tuesday’s Rangers’ win over the Metropolitan Division-leading Islanders. Add in the Pens, and you’ve got a fairly tight bunch at the top between those four teams.
We’re both playing well, although the Caps have been getting a might sloppy of late, and both squads are in relatively decent condition, considering how deep we are into the season. On the Rangers side, handsome ol’ Henrik Lundqvist is still out, healing his pretty, pretty face, but so, too, might be Mike Green and Brooks Orpik, who are two D-men we do not want to lose.
Less meaningful, but more irritating, will be the likely flood of Rags fans who will pollute Verizon tonight. Some things are simply, self-evidently, inescapable. Death and taxes. Daylight Savings Time is stupid. And right up there, Rangers fans are just awful.
We reached out to the decidedly non-awful Neill Fowler — writer, owner, operator and bottle-washer at New York Rangers Blog — for some insight about the Rangers, and the second of what we expect will be several more meetings before this whole thing is through. He was good enough to share his thoughts after a tense, but ultimately successful, evening for the Rangers last night.
First, we’re Caps fans because…duh. When did you come to the Rangers, and what’s great about being a Rags fan?
I’ve been a Rangers fan since I can remember. The very first memory I have of the Rangers was my 8-year-old self being tossed off the couch asleep by my father after Stephane Matteau scored the game-winner against the Devils in double OT in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 1994 . Even having suffered through the high priced, dead end free agent signings (Lindros, Holik, Redden, Drury, Gomez) the Rangers are that love/hate relationship that you can never leave.
We’re both in the thick of it now. Caps traditionally stumble on the Rangers just before or in playoffs: what’s your secret sauce?
We can both thank Gary Bettman for the ridiculous way the NHL has the divisions set up likely leading to many NYR-WSH 1st round matchups for the next several years to come. When the Rangers couldn’t get past the Capitals in the playoffs while the Caps were the cream of the crop in the Southeast Division, defensemen the likes of Wade Redden and Michal Rozsival were tasked with stopping Ovechkin. After the trade that sent Scott Gomez to Montreal and Ryan McDonagh to New York, the Rangers’ fortunes in the postseason against the Caps changed. Thanks again, Bob Gainey where ever you are.
The Caps have pulled it together this season under Coach Trotz, but Vigneault doesn’t seem to have done likewise. Correct or no, and if so, what’s missing? If not, what aren’t we seeing?
First off, I have to commend what Trotz has done from afar for the Caps as they seem to be a much more well rounded team than they were for Adam Oates and Bruce Boudreau. The biggest issue the Rangers have had regarding AV in the eyes of the fans is Vigneault’s strange fascination with Tanner Glass and doing whatever it takes to keep him in the lineup by any means necessary, even if that meant regulating rookie sensation Anthony Duclair to the press box. Glass was brutal to watch earlier in the season and seemed to be on the ice for every goal against. Many of us think that Glass has provocative pictures of AV lying around somewhere since that seems to be the only plausible excuse for Glass dressing full time.
You’ve got amazing talent up top – but it seems they’re not quite gelling together…more playing for themselves than as a team, Nash excluded. Right or wrong, and either way, how do you explain it?
I couldn’t disagree more about the Rangers playing more for themselves rather than as a team. They were already an extremely cohesive unit well before St. Louis came to town at the deadline last season and grew tighter on and off the ice after St.Louis’ mother died during the playoffs, which to be honest was the catalyst to the Rangers coming back against Pittsburgh in the semis and eventually through to the Stanley Cup Final. Even now, many of the glue guys in the room are still around from a year ago and they remain very tight as a unit from top to bottom.
We blew it last meeting at MSG; what did you see there about the Caps weakness that you hope the Rangers will exploit?
The last time the Rangers saw the Caps, the Rangers were in the middle of a 13 out of 14 game winning streak and ran into a Rick Nash buzz saw. The Rangers typically try to use their speed on the wings regardless of foe to create chances and odd-man rushes in transition which has been their primary source of point production this year.
Final call: how do you see this game playing out, and who comes out on top?
Two predictions: Total homer prediction, the Rangers break the goal scoring slump they’ve been going through lately to the tune of a 5-1 win. One for Ovechkin just to push the Richard Trophy further away from Nash.
Realistically, we’ll see if the Rangers have an emotional letdown coming off defeating the Islanders last night, plus the Rangers might be starting Mackenzie Skapski in net. So let’s say 3-2 Rangers though it wouldn’t shock me if that was the score was in the Caps’ favor.
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