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Can the Caps reclaim first place in New York?

Can the Caps reclaim first place in New York?

The Caps take on the New York Rangers on Saturday (2 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Washington) with a chance to reclaim first place in the Metropolitan Division.

Here’s what you need to watch when these two rivals meet in New York.

Battle of the backups…maybe

Both the Caps and Rangers played on Friday and both used their top netminders so it would stand to reason that we could see both teams go with their backups for Saturday’s game.

Pheonix Copley has a record of 7-4-2 this season with a .899 save percentage and 3.07 GAA. He played admirably in place of Holtby while he was dealing with an upper-body injury and really cemented himself as the team’s backup. For the Rangers, their backup is the 22-year-old Alexander Georgiev who holds a record of 4-2-0 with a .911 save percentage and 2.94 GAA.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There is still a chance one or both coaches could bring back their starters on Saturday.

Reirden was asked whether or not Copley would start on Saturday prior to Friday’s contest and was very non-committal, saying that was the plan but that he would reevaluate after the game. Rangers head coach David Quinn, meanwhile, elected to play Lundqvist both nights of a back-to-back the last time New York faced the Caps on the second leg on Oct. 17.

It should be Copley vs. Georgiev, it probably will be Copley vs. Georgiev, but it certainly is not out of the realm of possibility that one or both coaches elect to go with their starters, both of whom have been playing very well of late.

The Tom Wilson return tour continues

Wilson has been an absolute beast since his return from suspension. Most notably has been his offense as he has been producing at over a point per game pace. In just six games, Wilson already has three goals and eight points. That more points than other forward who have been available all season such as Andre Burakovsky, Devante Smith-Pelly, Chandler Stephenson, Nic Dowd and Dmitrij Jaskin.

The Caps get a noticeable boost in energy whenever Wilson is on the ice. Until he cools down, he is someone you have to keep an eye on because he makes an impact in every aspect of the game whether it be even strength, on the power play or the penalty kill and both offensively and defensively.

Home ice advantage

This year was supposed to be a wash for the Rangers who are in the midst of a rebuild, but New York is surpassing everyone’s expectations with how well they have played thus far, particularly at home.

The Rangers are in the midst of a seven-game win streak at Madison Square Garden and are 9-3-0 overall at home this season.

The Caps have been fairly average on the road at 5-4-1, but have won three of their last four and enter Saturday’s game on a four-game win streak overall.

A battle for first place

The Caps currently sit in second place of the Metropolitan Division with 27 points, just one behind the Columbus Blue Jackets. A win Saturday would obviously vault them over Columbus for first place. An overtime or shootout loss would pull the Caps into a tie, but the Blue Jackets would retain first place with one more regulation or overtime win over Washington (12-11).

Should New York beat the Caps in regulation, the Rangers would vault over Washington for second place, pushing the Caps down to third.

It’s only November so we should not look too much into the standings, but it is always a confidence boost for a team to say it’s in first place. When your opponent has a chance to vault you in the standings with a win, it also could add just a bit of juice to what would otherwise be a regular November matinee game.

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The season pause gave Braden Holtby a chance to 'fix a few things' in his game

The season pause gave Braden Holtby a chance to 'fix a few things' in his game

No team can make it far in the playoffs without good goaltending. That's what made the news of Ilya Samsonov's injury so tough for the Capitals. Sure, they still have Braden Holtby, but let's face it, it's been a bad season. Does he even still have it in him to lead the team in the postseason? After three round-robin games, the answer is an emphatic yes.

In a round-robin in which there were seemingly few positives for Washington, Holtby was one of them. He was the team's best player in the round-robin and he capped it off with 30 saves on 31 shots against the Boston Bruins on Sunday, the team's lone win.

Holtby looks like a completely different goalie than the one who managed just a .897 save percentage and 3.11 GAA in 48 regular-season games and that's because he is. The pause to the NHL season allowed Holtby time off to reset his game that he would not have in a normal season and he took advantage.

RELATED: CAPS VS. ISLANDERS NOT ONLY 'TROTZ VS. REIRDEN'

"Put a lot of work in the last couple months and had to fix a few things and work on a few things over the break to strengthen up," Holtby said, "And every game we played here you get a little more stamina and more and more comfortable."

It is pretty remarkable that Holtby was able to improve his game as much as he seems to have done considering that for much of that time, he could not even get on the ice. Yet, as the team prepares for the playoffs, goaltending no longer seems to be an issue. The loss of Samsonov means that the team is in trouble should Holtby struggle or get injured, but in terms of the starting netminder, Holtby is once again the guy. While that may have made fans nervous in January, fans can now be comfortable with that considering Holtby is playing his best hockey of the season.

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Caps and Islanders coaches downplay the personal matchup in Stanley Cup playoff series: 'It's not Barry Trotz vs. Todd Reirden'

Caps and Islanders coaches downplay the personal matchup in Stanley Cup playoff series: 'It's not Barry Trotz vs. Todd Reirden'

As the Capitals and New York Islanders prepare to square off in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, all eyes will be on one matchup. It's not about the two goalies or how one defensive pairing matchups up against an offensive line, this matchup is off the ice. The storyline of this series is the men behind the bench, Todd Reirden and his predecessor, Barry Trotz.

Trotz was the head coach in Washington from 2014 to 2018 and led the Caps to the Stanley Cup in 2018. Reirden was on Trotz's staff as an associate coach in charge of the defense. Following the 2018 season, Trotz resigned and was hired as the head coach in New York, taking with him assistant coach Lane Lambert and goalie coach Mitch Korn. Reirden was hired as head coach of the Caps in the wake of Trotz's departure.

"It'll be a great challenge because I know the people over there," Trotz said of the series.

"Obviously we were able to accomplish something amazing together and that's something that you'll never forget as a staff," Reirden said. "That's never going to go away. It's unique now being on opposite benches and it has been."

When a team plays against its former head coach, comparisons between the two coaches are unavoidable. But even if the fans and the media look at this series as a commentary on the two coaches, the two men in question certainly do not.

"It's not Barry Trotz vs. Todd Reirden or any of those type of things," Reirden said. "It's going to be a team effort."

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They also downplayed any sort of advantage knowing each other may give them in the series.

"You've spent some time with a lot of their players, there's a lot of new players," Trotz said. "It just gives me a little insight on some of their tendencies, that's all."

The core in Washington may be the same, but there are a number of new faces on the roster who came after Trotz. The top-six on offense is the same, but players like Carl Hagelin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Richard Panik, Garnet Hathaway and Nic Dowd all came after Trotz. Defensively, the team added Nick Jensen, Radko Gudas and Brenden Dillon.  Jonas Siegenthaler was in the organization, but did not make his NHL debut until the 2018-19 season.

RELATED: CAPS SECURE FIRST ROUND SERIES VS. ISLANDERS AFTER WIN OVER BRUINS

But even if they do not want to admit it, the familiarity between the coaches and players undeniably adds a different dynamic to the series.

The Caps know what kind of a coach Trotz is and how his teams like to play. Likewise, Trotz knows the level of talent on the roster in Washington so he knows the challenge that awaits the Islanders in the first round.

"They've got a lot of star power and they've won a championship," Trotz said. "They're well-equipped in a lot of areas, so the biggest challenge is to play them even and play them hard and they'll do the same because I know a lot about that group."

Trotz also added, "I think it will be a hell of a series."

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