So, fellow citizens, the last time that the Rangers---and yours truly---were at the Verizon Center here in Washington, it was May 13, Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, and with a 5-0 win, the Rangers eliminated the Capitals from the playoffs.
Lot of water under the bridge since, eh?
To be sure, both squads are off to tepid starts: The Caps are 2-4; the Blueshirts 1-4.
The Rangers will be missing Michael Del Zotto (flu), Rick Nash (concussion) and Carl Hagelin (shoulder, LTIR until 10/28). Cam Talbot will back up Henrik Lundqvist, with a 4.71 GAA, who is starting his fifth game. He replaced Martin Biron, since waived, in the third period against the Blues on Saturday. Biron is taking some time to determine whether he will report to Hartford; Arron Asham has accepted the assignment.
With Del Zotto out, his minutes will be filled by Justin Falk and John Moore, with the latter taking his spot on the point with Brad Richards on the first power play unit.
“We like a lot of things about his game,” coach Alain Vigneault said of Moore. “He’s got a good shot, Brad is playing well up top, he’s seeing the ice well, and seeing the different possibilities, pass or shot, and with John there, it’s going to give us a real solid shot from the point.”
Moore, who played 13 games last season after arriving from Columbus, said he understands that he is there “for a specific reason, to get pucks on net,” or at least shoot and create a chance for a rebound.
The Rangers are tied for 10th in the NHL in power play percentage at 23.5 (4-17). But the Caps are first overall at a blistering 36.4 percent (8-22). The Rangers have watched videos of how other teams have tried to defend the Caps 1-3-1 attack.
Dorsett, who readily faced the music with the press after his three costly penalties in the 5-3 loss to the Blues, must be careful. “He knows that he can’t take those penalties but that’s a tough role, that type of player, you’re always walking that fine line there, and I would feel very confident in saying that most nights he’ll be on the right side of that fine line; in that particular game he wasn’t,” Vigneault said today. “He’s very aware of it, he knew the impact it had in the game and I’m confident he’s going to be better for us.”
Presumably, Falk will get more time than the 5:18 he skated as a seventh defenseman against the Blues. “I’ve already moved on from that game,” said Falk, who also was called for two penalties.
“I need him to be dependable on his 1-on-1s,” Vigneault said of the 6-foot-5 Falk, who came from the Wild via trade in the off-season. “I need him to be physical when the opportunity is there…He might not be a puck-moving defenseman but he should be able to make a good first pass…With his skill set, a decent skill set, for him to stay in this league, he has to bring an edge to his game.”
The other defensive wrinkle is the re-joining of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, who helped control Alex Ovechkin in the playoffs. Marc Staal and Anton Stralman will be the second pair and Moore and Falk the third duo.
Upfront, J.T. Miller, recalled from Hartford yesterday, will play his first game since opening night in Phoenix. The 20-year-old left wing will begin on a fourth line with Dominic Moore and Derek Dorsett, and should see some power play time on a second unit, probably with Benoit Pouliot and Mats Zuccarello. Miller scored his four AHL goals at center.
“I’ve just got to keep going and not worry about bumps and what’s happened so far, “ said Miller. “I’ve just got to go hard and take it shift by shift. I’m thankful for every opportunity I can get and I’ll try to take advantage of it.”
Richards-Derick Brassard-Ryan Callahan
Benoit Pouliot-Derek Stepan-Mats Zuccarello
Taylor Pyatt-Brian Boyle-Jesper Fast
Without naming names, Vigneault said some wings need to produce or be demoted, but it was clearly a shot across the bow to warn Zuccarello, Pouliot and perhaps Pyatt, to contribute. The three have zero points in five games. Watch for Miller (4 goals in 3 AHL games) to get some shifts on the Stepan or Boyle line if they falter.
Here’s the Caps projected lineup:
Johansson-Backstrom-Ovechkin; Laich-Grabovski-Brouwer; Chimera-Fehr-Ward; Erat-Beagle-Wilson…On D: Alzner-Green; Urbom-Carlson; Schmidt-Oleksy. Holtby’s in net. The scratches: Erskine, Hillen (injured); Volpatti.