News, notes and quotes from today’s morning skate at Madison Square Garden in preparation for to tonight’s rematch between the Capitals (8-2-0, 16 points) and New York Rangers (7-2-2, 16 points):
Remember the pain: In each of the Caps’ last three trips to the playoffs they have been eliminated by the Rangers in seven games.
“You remember that hurt at the end of the year,” said Jay Beagle, who will center a third line with Jason Chimera and Andre Burakovsky. “It’s a team we’ve come up against quite a bit in the five or six years I’ve been here and a rivalry has formed, for sure. The teams don’t like each other. It’s a big game and it’s a game for first place. There’s a lot more to it than last year.”
Where they stand: The Caps and Rangers are tied for the Metropolitan Division lead with 16 points, one point ahead of the third-place Islanders. The Caps are ranked fourth in the NHL in goals per game (3.4) while the Rangers rank first in goals allowed per game (1.8).
“They’re a very structured team,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “Washington is one of the elite teams in the league and they’re playing real well. It was a tough playoffs series last year that could have gone either way.”
While it was the first time Vigneault faced the Caps in the playoffs, and the first time Barry Trotz facewd the Rangers in the post-season, both coaches got a good feel for the history between the teams.
“The pain doesn’t go away, it just doesn’t,” Trotz said. “We’ve both shown through the first 10 games that we’re quality teams. It’ll be a good match tonight.”
McDonagh-Girardi: The Rangers’ top defense pairing of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi will be reunited to face the Caps’ top line of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie.
“Part of it is they love that challenge,” Vigneault said of facing Ovechkin, who has 22 goals and 15 assists for 37 points in 39 games against the Rangers. “They know they’re going against one of the best players in the league, if not the best. (Ovechkin) is very competitive, very physical and that brings out the best in them as far as competitiveness, reads and physicality. He’s a tough, tough player to play against.”
Rangers top-line center Derick Brassard said that while Ovechkin is the most dangerous player om the Caps’ top line, Evgeny Kuznetsov (5 goals, 8 assists) is just as difficult to contain.
“He’s been playing really well,” Brassard said. “He’s a really good skater and that’s the main thing with him. In between the blue lines in the neutral zone he just flies out there.
“There’s a reason why there’s a big hype around him. Last year in the playoffs he brought his game to another level. This year he’s very dynamic and he’s playing with Ovechkin so we’re going to have to pay attention to him a lot.”
Breaking in the rookie: The Rangers will go with 23-year-old rookie defenseman Dylan McElrath on their third pairing with Keith Yandle. Known as The Undertaker, McElrath is a hulking 6-foot-5, 220-pounder from Winnipeg with four games of NHL experience. He recorded 165 penalty minutes in each of his last two seasons with the Hartford Wolf Pack.
“He’s been working hard so I think this is a good game for him,” Vigneault said. “Washington is a big, heavy team, so he should fit in.”
McElrath, who is replacing 39-year-old Dan Boyle, said he’s anxious to share the same ice as Ovechkin.
“It’ll be pretty cool,” he said. “Obviously, I’ve grown up watching him. He’s been an elite player for 10 years. It’ll be pretty cool to step on the same ice as him. … I have to tote the line of playing physical but also playing smart.”
Here’s a quick look at the projected lineups for both teams:
MORE CAPITALS: Why Caps expect another tight one in New York