To avoid using the Jekyll and Hyde cliche for the millionth time, how about this one: the Washington Capitals really need the Hulk version of their game and not the Bruce Banner one when they take on the New York Rangers at Verizon Center today.
That wasn’t the case Saturday in a 5-2 loss to the New York Islanders, though they could have used some of Dr. Banner’s smarts to avoid the two double minor penalties that ultimately spelled their doom. And maybe it’s not even fair to call the Caps inconsistent when they’re on the road, as their 3-7-1 record away from home proves they’ve been bad on a regular basis.
The good news is that Washington is home for this one and will have Braden Holtby back in net. On top of that, Alex Ovechkin almost has to have a better game than he did against the Isles, and Mike Ribeiro figures to rebound as well since he hasn’t been held pointless in consecutive games.
But there’s bad news too, most of it on the blue line. Mike Green is still out, and he may be joined in street clothes by John Erskine, who left the ice after only a few shifts on Saturday and did not return. The Capitals have Tom Poti to fill in as he has earlier in the season, but playing without both their most skilled defenseman and their grittiest defenseman is never optimal.
The Rangers know a little about defensive injuries since Marc Staal is out indefinitely, but they have their most important offensive players all healthy again. Brad Richards made his return Friday, scoring a goal against Tampa Bay. Rick Nash had his own injury troubles a few weeks ago but has been on a tear since then, scoring goals in all five games.
Shutting down Nash may be priority number one, but solving Henrik Lundqvist will be a close second. The Rangers netminder has been his typically leak-proof self this season, and he made 27 saves on 28 shots to earn a win during the only previous meeting between the two teams this season.
This is an especially important game for the Caps, because of all the teams in front of them in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot, the Rangers are the one opponent who has played the same number of games. Washington doesn’t want to fall seven points back, even with half the season left to play.
To bring it back to the original analogy, maybe the Capitals need to be the grey Hulk, a combination of brains and power, if they want to salvage a weekend split against the New York teams. The alternative is to slip back down into the pit from which they’ve worked so hard to escape, and that’s frankly not too fun to think about.
New York Rangers at Washington Capitals
Start time: 12:30 pm EST (or 11:30 am if you forgot to turn your clocks ahead)