GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said Wednesday he won’t bother to look at the video of the game his team played against the Washington Capitals back on opening night. It’s too long ago to have much value, the coach said.
"They play on TV, you watch enough of their games,’’ Gallant said of the Capitals, whom the Rangers face Thursday at Madison Square Garden in their 51st game of the season. "You know what they're going to bring. I mean, [Alexander] Ovechkin is not changing his game. I'm sure the rest of their team aren't going to change.’’
Fifty games into the season, the Rangers (32-13-5) haven’t played many games within the Metropolitan Division, but that is about to change in a hurry, beginning Thursday. The game against the Caps (28-15-9) is the first of 16 the Rangers will play against divisional opponents over their final 32 regular-season games. That includes four games against Pittsburgh, whom the Rangers will visit on Saturday, three against division-leading Carolina, and two more against Washington.
"We're 50 games in, you haven't seen Pittsburgh once,’’ forward Chris Kreider said after Wednesday’s practice. "We've seen Carolina once, Washington once, right? So, we've got so many divisional games and obviously it's so tight at the top of the standings … they're going to be big games.’’
Carolina (35-11-4), Pittsburgh (31-13-8) and the Rangers hold the top three spots in the division race, while Washington holds the first of two wild card spots in the Eastern Conference. Washington, with 65 points, is four behind the Rangers.
Kreider said he expected the games against Washington, Pittsburgh and Carolina will "have more of like a playoff feel.’’
"It's a great opportunity for us to see where we're at,’’ he said.
Both Kreider and Adam Fox spoke Wednesday about the importance of winning divisional games, which both players see as four-point games
"When you're playing divisional opponents, it almost seems like you're taking away points from them also when you [win], and makes it that much more important,’’ Fox said. "So you don't really want to worry about the opponent, but at the same time divisional games, you know, that's the teams you're competing with for playoff spots, so they definitely take on a little stronger meaning.’’
Kreider, whose 33 goals led the league at the All-Star break, has yet to score in the second half, and has slipped to third in the race, behind Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl (35 entering Wednesday) and Toronto’s Auston Matthews (34). Washington’s Ovechkin is in fourth place with 31.
Notes & quotes: Capitals winger Tom Wilson comes to the Garden for the first time this season and second time since he body-slammed a helmetless Artemi Panarin to the ice in a game last May. Wilson has 15 goals, 19 assists and a team-leading 65 penalty minutes this season … Gallant, asked if rookie Morgan Barron would soon go to AHL Hartford in order to get some playing time, said: "I think you're going to see Barron sooner than later.’’ Barron rotated in on the third line the last two days, with Filip Chytil, Julien Gauthier and Greg McKegg … The players sang "Happy Birthday’’ to assistant coach Gord Murphy after practice. Murphy turned 55 Wednesday.