The Washington Capitals and New York Rangers played the seventh of their eight meetings this season on May 3. The result was a decisive 6-3 victory for the Capitals. The teams will meet for the eighth and final time on May 5 at 7:00 pm EST. Let’s dive into some of the storylines for the upcoming match.
A Lack of Personelle on Both Sides
Both the Rangers and Capitals were missing some key players on Monday night. The Rangers were without Chris Kreider, Ryan Lindgren and Jacob Trouba. The Capitals entered without Justin Schulz, Evgeny Kuznetzov, Ilya Samsonov and TJ Oshie. The list of unavailable players grew as the night went on.
Artemi Panarin suffered a lower-body injury and will miss the remainder of the season after a run-in with Tom Wilson. Wilson’s latest controversial play saw him punch a defenseless Pavel Buchnevich, which started a scrum. Panarin got involved by jumping on Wilson’s back, leading Wilson to remove Panarin’s helmet and slam him to the ice. Wilson has since been fined $5,000 for roughing Buchnevich.
Alexander Ovechkin missed four straight games for the Capitals and reentered on Monday night ready to play. However, Ovechkin’s return was short-lived as he played just one shift before returning to the locker room. Washington coach Peter Laviolette said in a May 4 press conference that an Ovechkin return on the 5th is unlikely.
Trouba, Kreider and Lindgren are all listed as day-to-day on the injured list for the Rangers. It is possible that one of them may return on Wednesday, but it is unlikely that all three will come back. Each of these three players, and the now-injured Panarin, have been important so far this season. While the Rangers still have strong players even with an extensive injured list, losing some of their star players will hurt them.
For the Capitals, Justin Schultz is day-to-day with a lower-body injury. In his press conference, coach Laviolette said that it remains undecided if Samsonov will return on the 5th, as he missed Monday’s game for disciplinary reasons. Evgeny Kuznetzov also missed Monday for disciplinary reasons and has since been added to the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols list. TJ Oshie missed Monday’s game for personal reasons and is currently mourning the loss of his father. It remains unclear if any of the players missing on Monday will return for Wednesday night’s game, leaving Washington without a majority of their top-six forwards.
The Captials Bottom-Six Keep Stepping Up
The bottom-six forwards for the Capitals have played well in recent weeks and continued to excel against the Rangers. The Capitals entered Monday’s game already short one forward as they chose to rotate three centers instead of making calls to the taxi squad. Alexander Ovechkin’s early exit to the game put Washington short two forwards. Tom Wilson’s second-period rampage put him in the penalty box for nearly 20 minutes.
Even when down to just nine forwards, the Capitals never stopped playing hard. Fourth-liner Garnet Hathaway scored late in the second period to tie the game at three, giving Washington some much-needed momentum. His linemate Nic Dowd had an excellent game, scoring his tenth goal of the season and recording an assist. Dowd also recorded over 21 minutes of ice time and won 14 of the 21 faceoffs he took. Carl Hagelin, the final piece of the Capitals fourth-line, recorded an assist and over 18 minutes of ice time. Each member of the line ended the night with a plus-two rating and performed well on the forecheck.
The Washington third line was also excellent on Monday night. Connor Sheary recorded a goal and Michael Raffl recorded two assists. Raffl also played each of the three forward positions, showing off his versatility. Lars Eller did not light up the scoreboard, but he put up four shots, played hard and recorded over 18 minutes of ice time.
Strong showings from Washington defensemen on the 3rd was an equally important aspect of the game. The Capitals’ defense prevented the Rangers in the last 30 minutes of the game. Vitek Vanecek made some key saves which kept Washington in the game and allowed them to focus on offense.
The ability of the Washington Capitals, especially their bottom-six, to adjust to changing situations within a game is a good sign going into their next game and the playoffs. While they may not have all of their team there, the Capitals still have a shot at defeating the Rangers and maintaining their number one spot in the division.
Renewed Bad Blood
Tom Wilson’s actions on Monday night have sparked anger among Rangers players and fans as well as players and fans across the NHL. While he has not received a suspension, it is unlikely that he will go unpunished in the upcoming game. The Rangers do not have a player who currently fills the “enforcer” role seen on many teams, but it is possible that someone will step up and face Wilson. The Capitals bring an inherently physical game to the ice whenever they play, but it tends to get especially heated when their opponent becomes physical as well. Even with both teams shorthanded, this game should bring intensity and physicality as the season series comes to a close.