Open thread: Capitals at Rangers
Rookie Philipp Grubauer will make his second career start and first of the season Sunday night at Madison Square Garden. He’ll be opposed by Henrik Lundqvist (9-11-1, 2.51 goals-against average, .916 save percentage) who hasn’t allowed a goal to the Capitals since Game 5 of last year’s Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.
Discuss the game right here and check out the following reads before puck drop.
Faceoff: 7 p.m., Madison Square Garden
TV: CSN| Radio: 106.7 FM
Here is the Capitals’ lineup.
Goal: Grubauer, Holtby.
Scratches: Brooks Laich (groin), Alex Urbom and Patrick Wey.
IR: Michal Neuvirth (right ankle).
LTIR: Jack Hillen (fractured tibial plateau), John Erskine (knee).
Philipp Grubauer to start against Rangers
NEW YORK On the second of back-to-back games and with second place in the Metropolitan Division on the line, the Capitals will start rookie netminder Philipp Grubauer Sunday against the Rangers.
This will be Grubauer’s second career start, the first came on March 9 at the Islanders, and fourth NHL appearance. Most recently, Grubauer made nine saves in a third-period relief effort on Dec. 3 in Washington’s 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.
“Holts can’t play 80 in a row. I felt like he needs a break,” Coach Adam Oates said two hours before puck drop. “Holts can’t play them all. He needs a break. He’s played a lot of games so tonight’s a break and we’ve got confidence in Gruby.”
Holtby has appeared in 24 of the Capitals 29 games prior to Sunday’s game. Oates said he consulted with goaltending coach Olie Kolzig and opted to go with the 22-year-old German netminder, and said that the environment at Madison Square Garden isn’t causing him to have second thoughts.
“There’s no easy environment, we’ve got Tampa Tuesday night -- it never ends. They played last night, both teams are a little tired maybe not as many shots but you know what there’s no easy night,” Oates said. “Sometimes you, I don’t want to say get a hunch, but you think it through. I know it’s a tough environment but then what isn’t? We’ve got to win at home, we’ve got to win on the road. Someone’s got to play every night.”
>> There could be one other potential lineup change, as Oates said the coaching staff was still weighing whether to play rookie Patrick Wey or Steve Oleksy on the third defensive pairing. There should be an indication during warmups as to which one will get the nod.
>> Brooks Laich will miss a fifth straight game with a strained right groin muscle. He did not make the trip to New York with the team but he did skate for the first time since Nov. 27 back in Arlington. There remains no timetable for his return, but Oates made it clear that Laich would need several days on the ice without suffering any setbacks before he can return to the lineup. In short, he won’t be in the lineup Tuesday against Tampa Bay.
>> Goaltender Michal Neuvirth, who remains sidelined by a right ankle injury after stepping on a puck on Nov. 29, did not make the trip but skated Sunday back in Arlington as well. Neuvirth can be activated from injured reserve at any time.
>> Projected lineups for both teams
Mats Zuccarello-Brad Richards-Ryan Callahan
Rick Nash-Derek Stepan-Chris Kreider
J.T. Miller-Derick Brassard-Carl Hagelin
Taylor Pyatt-Brian Boyle-Benoit Pouliot
Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi
Michael Del Zotto-Anton Stralman
John Moore-Justin Falk
Henrik Lundqvist will start
Capitals and Rangers face off for second place in Metropolitan Division
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.
Five thoughts on the Capitals’ 5-2 win against Nashville
The Capitals kicked off back-to-back games this weekend with a 5-2 win over the Predators, thanks to a strong start and the ability to build on that advantage. Five different players scored goals, including rookie defenseman Nate Schmidt, who notched his first NHL goal.
Five thoughts on the win over Nashville.
1. Offense from the defense. Goals are a bonus, Coach Adam Oates says when discussing the type of offense he needs from Washington’s defensemen. He needs them to be able to make smart pinches and good decisions while walking the blueline to keep possession alive and in the offensive zone. He needs them to know when to put a puck on net through traffic or dump it back in the corner after the forwards have recovered on the play.
It can’t just be the defensemen with offensive leanings, like Mike Green and John Carlson, but every blueliner needs to have the confidence to be able to pull those plays off. If the Capitals defensemen aren’t involved in keeping plays moving forward, the team’s overall offense will become that much easier for opponents to shut down.
“Big picture, you have to, to play in this league you have to. You’ve gotta play both ends of the rink as much as possible,” Oates said Saturday night. “Obviously every guy has his strengths, but teams move so much now in five-man units offensively, defensively you can’t have that gap. It creates an odd-numbered situation and territory is so vital. On the blueline, the way teams play D, you’ve got to be able to move laterally and get the puck to the net.”
Against Nashville, the Capitals received the contributions from the defensemen consistently throughout the contest. They worked the puck around the top of the zone giving the forwards time to get in front to create potential scoring chances, helped to sustain the cycle and wore down the Predators’ defense.
They also got the bonus of goals, as both Karl Alzner and Nate Schmidt got on the scoresheet.
2. A defenseman branches out. Alzner is the best example among the defensemen of a player working to move beyond his comfort zone. Washington’s most stay-at-home blueliner has spent a lifetime trying to avoid turnovers and protect his own zone, but he’s gradually becoming more willing to handle the puck on the blueline or move up into the zone to make a play.
“I’ve asked him to add that to his game. I know it’s still defense first, but he plays so many minutes. Every little touch that he makes just benefits us big picture,” Oates said. “It doesn’t always turn into your turn, but the more we work on it, when it is his turn we need a goal from him or a good play. He got one [Saturday], great.”
A week ago against the Islanders, Alzner pinched up ice to keep the play in the offensive zone to set up Nicklas Backstrom’s game-tying shorthanded goal late in regulation. Saturday night when he had plenty of space and saw traffic in front of the Predators’ netminder, Alzner moved to his right and shot through a screen to put the Capitals up 3-0 in the first period.
For Alzner, having more confidence when presented with that situation was as simple as seeing the play a different way.
“Whenever I get the puck from my partner I always take it, and take a step to the left and that really limits your options. It was never something that I would corral it into the middle of the ice and [that gives] you both directions to shoot,” Alzner said. “I’m feeling more comfortable holding it up there and making a play but nowhere near as comfortable as 52 or Carly.”
3. Long time coming. In all this talk of Alzner, it’s important to note that his goal against the Predators was his first goal at home at Verizon Center. It only took him until his 148th career regular season appearance there to get one.
“It’s about time,” Alzner quipped after the game Saturday.
4. Patrick Wey debut. The fourth player to make his NHL debut this season and 12th defenseman to suit up for the Capitals this season, Wey made it through Saturday’s contest. He skated 16 shifts for a total of 13:36 ice time paired with fellow prospect Dmitry Orlov.
Neither Wey nor Orlov was on the ice for a goal against, and after some early-game jitters that saw him bobble the puck a few times, Wey settled down.
“I thought as the game went along he looked better,” Oates said. “The first few times he touched the puck it looked like it was a foreign subject to him but after that he got into the game, made a couple good reads some good plays.”
Given that Oates doesn’t like to judge players on one game -- especially when that game is an NHL debut with nerves a significant factor -- don’t be surprised to see Wey and Orlov as the Capitals’ third pairing Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
5. Martin Erat. The disgruntled veteran winger had one of his better games against a team not named the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday night. After he made his trade request public, Erat was scratched for three games and then spent two centering the fourth line.
But against his former squad, Erat played between Jason Chimera and Joel Ward on the third line and skated 16:31, his fourth-highest ice time of the season and most since Nov. 2. He set up Nate Schmidt’s goal in the fourth period with a smart play after gaining control of the puck following a faceoff win and attempted four shots on goal. It’s been nearly two weeks since Erat went public with his trade demand, and with the NHL’s holiday roster freeze (Dec. 19-27) approaching, you have to think the Capitals are trying to showcase him. With a sizable cap hit and having requested trades twice in less than eight months, there likely isn’t a bull market for Erat, and playing him scant minutes wasn’t going make him more valuable to potential trade partners.
Asked about Erat prior to Saturday’s contest, Predators Coach Barry Trotz offered a little perspective on the veteran winger.
“I will say Marty has traditionally been a slow starter and has always picked it up and been the best guy on our hockey team, always, the last 60 games -- when we play  games,” Trotz said. “You look at his whole career, he’s been a slow starter and he has a good last 60 games. He’s now in that window.”
Nate Schmidt records first NHL goal in Capitals win over Nashville
Before Saturday’s game, Karl Alzner and Nate Schmidt had commiserated about their lack of goals. Not just that they hadn’t scored this season but that Alzner had yet to score a goal in his career at home on Verizon Center ice and that Schmidt was still waiting for his first NHL goal.
So after Alzner finally recorded a goal in the building on F Street in the first period of Washington’s 5-2 win over the Predators, he tapped his rookie teammate on the shoulder.
“In between the intermission actually, I said ‘All right Schmitty now that I scored, you can score one,’” Alzner said. “And he went out and did it.”
Early in the third period, Joel Ward won a faceoff to the right of the Nashville goal and Martin Erat gained possession of the puck in the corner. The veteran forward spotted Schmidt alone a few feet in from the blueline and threaded a pass to the rookie defenseman. Schmidt, 22, blasted a slap shot past Predators goalie Marek Mazanec for his first career goal in his 25th NHL game.
“Marty Erat, guy that was great all night, makes a great play out of the corner to me,” Schmidt said. “I’m all alone in front of the net. I had the easy part -- he did all the hard work for me.”
Schmidt was mobbed by every player on the ice, perhaps no one more happy to see him record the milestone than his defensive partner as of late, John Carlson, who picked the Minnesota native up off the ice.
“I was ecstatic,” Schmidt said. “When I saw [Carlson] coming I almost tried to go against the boards. I felt like he was going to hit me like the other team would but it was great. The guys have been great.”
The first thing anyone notices about Schmidt is that he’s always smiling. There’s yet to be a practice, game or any other team activity where he hasn’t had a grin on his face and his teammates are glad to see the rookie with a persistently sunny outlook get rewarded.
“Everyone kind of goes back, when you see someone score their first career goal you think of your own first career goal and it’s a good one for him,” Troy Brouwer said. “I’m happy for him. I hope he enjoys it.”
More on offense from the defense and Alzner’s goal Sunday in Five Thoughts.