The Rangers are back in action where they will host the Washington Capitals for the first time at full capacity since last year’s incident (7:00 P.M. EST, ESPN).
|6th||NHL Standing Rank||11th|
The Rangers defeated the Ottawa Senators 2-1 during their last game on Sunday. Ryan Strome and Artemi Panarin each scored in a winning effort. The game was a very tight contest with chances coming at a premium, but the most exciting moment came from Rangers’ goaltender Igor Shesterkin. With Ottawa pulling the goalie for an extra skater, Shesterkin had a lot of time on the puck and shot for the empty net which seemed to have everyone hold their breath. When the puck landed on the ice it looked as though that puck could only end up in the back of the net. But as it inched closer and close to Ottawa’s empty net, the puck ended up drifting just wide and hitting the side of the net. Shesterkin laughed it off and finished the game with 29 saves on 30 shots.
“We trust him…,” said head coach Gerard Gallant after being asked by the media about Shesterkin shooting for the empty net in a one-goal game. “If they happened to knock one down and score on us then we will move on from that. I enjoyed it. I wish it would have went in the net like everyone else.”
The Blueshirts will look to continue their strong defensive play as they take on the Washington Capitals in a key divisional game. The only meeting between the two sides was on opening night when the Capitals defeated the Rangers 4-1 in Washington D.C. It was a game where the hockey world expected a lot of fights but ultimately that didn’t come to be.
Thursday night’s game will mark the first time the Capitals are in Madison Square Garden with a full capacity since prior to the pandemic. The big incident which sparked the rivalry came with a limited capacity when Capitals’ forward Tom Wilson sucker-punched ex-Ranger Pavel Buchnevich in the back of the head and then proceeded to take down Rangers’ forward Artemi Panarin by the hair. Expect Wilson to get booed every time he touches the puck – similarly to how Panarin gets booed in Columbus.
Going forward, the Rangers need a bigger impact from their bottom-six forward core.
Since January 24th:
Julien Gauthier: 8GP – 0G & 0A
Dryden Hunt: 8GP – 0G & 1A
Greg McKegg: 8GP – 0G & 0A
Ryan Reaves: 8GP – 0G & 0A
Kevin Rooney: 8GP – 0G & 0A
Filip Chytil: 3GP – 1G & 0A
Morgan Barron: 3GP – 0G & 0A
Since January 24th, the Blueshirts don’t have a single forward not in their top six who has recorded more than a single point. In 46 total games, these players have combined for one goal and one assist. The Rangers need more offensive production out of their depth to help ease the pressure off of their star players. If the depth of the Rangers continues to struggle with offensive production, it may be in General Manager Chris Drury’s best interest to address the weakness before the trade deadline.
Washington enters Thursday night’s game having won three of their previous four games. However, they have won just eight games out of 17 in the calendar year of 2022. But like the Rangers, they haven’t had many games postponed and they last played a week ago on February 17th.
Leading the Capitals in points is the never-aging Alex Ovechkin as he continues to play at an elite level despite being 36-years-old. Ovechkin has 31 goals and 31 assists on the season as he continues to be one of the all-time greats. Wilson who often joins Ovechkin on the top line has 34 points on the season and he has yet to get in any major trouble with The Department of Player Safety.
T.J. Oshie who has missed over 30 games this season could be available for the Capitals. Oshie has dealt with injuries and illnesses and hasn’t been able to stay on the ice. Oshie returned to practice this week after only playing in two games during 2022.
In addition, Justin Schultz and Vitek Vanecek who each were suffering from injuries could also both be available for selection. Vanecek hasn’t played since February 1st when he suffered an upper-body injury and Schultz missed the team’s previous game – also with an upper-body injury.
Anthony Mantha also returned to practice for the Capitals but he remains in a non-contact jersey and is slated to miss Thursday’s game against the Rangers. Mantha underwent shoulder surgery and remains on the Injured Reserve.
What to watch
Can the Rangers find a way to score a few more goals? Teams are starting to find a formula against the Rangers which includes staying out of the box and playing at five-on-five. No team is scared of the Rangers’ depth which has to change. It’s not due to a lack of effort but ultimately some production needs to come out of them. A game against a key division rival could be the spark they need to get going.
In addition, it will always be worth keeping an eye on if there will be any fireworks. With Reaves and Wilson sharing the same ice, the two could drop the gloves at any moment. Washington also has some other big players like Garnet Hathaway who isn’t afraid to fight anyone.