The Blueshirts are 2-0-1 in the past three games and they will take on a red-hot Washington Capitals offense where they will wear the head of Lady Liberty for the first time since 2007 (7:00 P.M. ET, MSG).
|Rangers||East Division Ranks /8||Capitals|
The Rangers are coming off a gutsy 3-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. It was a much-needed win following the off-ice debacle of Tony DeAngelo. Prior to the start of Monday night’s game, general manager Jeff Gorton and team president John Davidson have stated that DeAngelo has played his final game as a Ranger and that they will look to trade him. DeAngelo is supposedly generating a lot of interest but many believe the Rangers will have to take a roster player back or retain some of his salary in order to move him. If the Rangers don’t end up getting a deal they like, they can buy him out this upcoming offseason that will have a cap penalty of less than one million for the next two seasons.
The Blueshirts will make two changes to their lineup following the win. Brendan Smith was injured in the first period and did not return. With DeAngelo now at home, and Jack Johnson still listed as day-to-day, the Rangers will turn to Libor Hajek to man the third defensive pairing. Hajek will become the ninth defender the Rangers have used this season. The 23-year-old showed promise in his first stint with the Rangers before suffering a season-ending injury. Hajek started on the team last season before being sent down to Hartford due to poor performance. The Czech native will have to make the most of this opportunity if he is to remain in the lineup for the rest of the season and be a part of the future.
The other change to the lineup will see the return of Kaapo Kakko. Kakko missed the last game due to being on the COVID list (NOTE: The COVID list doesn’t mean an individual has COVID-19). Kakko will return to the second line and play with Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome. Jonny Brodzinski was sent back down to the AHL.
One big positive following the game was the Ranger’s penalty kill. The PK killed all six Penguins power-plays and did not allow many high scoring chances.
“Our guys are aggressive, they’re decisive and they’re making the sacrifices they need to make in order to have a successful penalty kill,” said head coach David Quinn. “Never underestimate the goalie when you’ve got a PK that goes 100%.”
The Blueshirts will hope they can stay disciplined but the penalty kill may be a key factor in Thursday night’s game against the Capitals. The Capitals have the highest-scoring team in the division and they have a power-play that is running at nearly 41 percent. The Rangers cannot take bad penalties or a team as dangerous as the Capitals can make them pay for it.
Washington has suffered just one defeat in regulation this season and a victory could put them back atop the East Division. Despite missing key players due to the COVID list, the Capitals have still found ways to win games. Alex Ovechkin and Dmitri Orlov have since returned to the lineup, but Evgeny Kuznetsov and starting goaltender Ilya Samsonov still remain on the list as of this writing and will miss the game barring any changes.
In Samsonov’s absence, rookie goaltender Vitek Vanecek has carried the load and he has been a difference-maker. Vanecek has gone 5-1-2 with a .913 save percentage and he won rookie of the month in January. The 25-year-old is expected to get the start if Samsonov remains unavailable.
Igor Shesterkin will make his second consecutive start. Shesterkin has allowed just one goal in each of the past two games. He will have a tough task to keep the momentum rolling against the Capitals.
While the Capitals are very dangerous on offense, they also allow are good at allowing a lot of goals. Washington is currently allowing an average of 3.20 goals against per game. This could present the opportunity for players who have struggled on offense this season to find a point and start to build momentum. The last time these two teams played, Mika Zibanejad scored five goals. Zibanejad has had a rough start to the season but he will play a team he should feel confident facing.