The Washington Capitals and New York Rangers are set to square off in a Saturday matinee matchup and there will be a new face in the Caps’ lineup.
Craig Smith, part of the return from the Boston Bruins in the trade that sent Dmitry Orlov and Garnet Hathaway up north, will make his Capitals debut as the team looks to avoid seven losses in a row. Head coach Peter Laviolette said Friday that the plan is for Smith to line up on the right wing.
Recently acquired Craig Smith is expected to make his Capitals debut, per head coach Peter Laviolette from pregame media availability.#CapsRangers | @SociosUSA pic.twitter.com/hkJPlMDtSp
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) February 25, 2023
The 33-year-old Smith has recorded 10 points (4g, 6a) in 42 games with the Bruins this season. One of those assists did come in a 3-1 Boston victory over the Rangers in mid-January.
Smith has an extensive history with Laviolette from when both were with the Nashville Predators. He lined up for Lavy in parts of six seasons from 2014-15 to 2019-20.
“He’s a guy that can score goals,” Laviolette said pregame. “He’s got five 20-goal seasons. He’s capable of putting the puck in the net. He’s a worker. He’s got speed, he competes. Has played power play. We’ll see how that goes. I think with him coming in late last night and just getting some systems info probably simplify things for him today and see where that goes from there.
“We’ve changed things a little bit since last time we worked together,” he added when asked about the two’s shared past. “Even if you haven’t played a system, you’ve probably played against it. So, you have an understanding of what it is and then you just fine-tune the details. I think the most important thing is just going out there and bringing some energy and pace to the game and looking to create if he can.”
The team also announced a few hours before puck drop that Marcus Johansson will not be in the lineup due to a non-COVID illness. It will be Johansson’s first missed game of the season. That leaves just Conor Sheary, Nick Jensen, and Trevor van Riemsdyk as the only players to factor into every game this season should they not be a late scratch.
Johansson had been skating on a third line with Nicklas Backstrom and Conor Sheary. Smith could fill in there as Sheary flips to his more natural left wing.
The Caps will also go back to Darcy Kuemper in net after Charlie Lindgren took a 4-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday. Kuemper’s last outing saw him stop 22 of 25 shots against the Detroit Red Wings in a 3-1 defeat on Tuesday.
In five February starts, Kuemper is 1-4 with a 3.07 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage. At five-on-five as a team in February, the Caps rank just 28th in the league in save percentage (.895).
The Rangers will arrive in DC with 75 standings points and sitting comfortably in third in the Metropolitan Division. They will be looking to snap their own losing streak as they have dropped their last three.
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