Capitals Vs. Rangers: Three Players To Watch


The Washington Capitals will be seeking revenge tonight against the New York Rangers team that ousted them 5-2 early in November. Here’s who to watch.

Contests between the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers are star studded affairs on both ends of the ice. With multiple NHL All-Stars inhabiting each side and two of the best goaltenders in pro hockey, there’s never a dull moment between these two. With all that in mind, here are my suggested players to keep tabs on during tonight’s match.

Mix in more than a shake or two of ill temper between the two Metropolitan Division rivals and this game could imitate playoff intensity in a hurry.  These three players could end up making the difference in what could turn into a white-knuckle game.

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Derek Stepan returns after missing nearly three weeks with broken ribs. For the Rangers, he couldn’t return soon enough. Together with forward Chris Kreider, the Rangers breezed through the first 20 games of the season – picking up wins in all but five. Kreider has struggled in Stepan’s absence – scoring only two goals in the last 16 games.

Both are adept at anticipating play, but were unable to get back on the same page during the contest against Winnipeg on Friday night where the Rangers were lambasted 5-2 north of the border. Henrik Lundqvist got little support from his defense against the Jets and I’m sure the Capitals’ coaching staff were collecting notes.

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Jay Beagle is currently sitting in some elite company with Jonathan Toews, Ryan O’Reilly, Jordan Staal and Claude Giroux. What do all of them have in common? They’re all in the top five for face-off wins so far on the season. Beagle, who has steadily gained Barry Trotz’ confidence in the dot since last season is currently ranked the 4th best face-off man in hockey. Way to go, Jay! 

Number 83 has drawn a lot of flak from Caps’ fans who dislike his placement on anything higher than the third line. For an atmosphere which is so obsessed with the implementation of advanced possession statistics, there sure seems to be too little love being given to such a proven commodity gaining the puck from the drop. Last time I checked, winning faceoffs helped possession efforts.

Beagle is exactly the type of player to watch for tonight on the Capitals. Working on a line seeing lesser defensive competition and skilled at putting pressure in front of the net, Jay could help burn the Rangers from the forecheck just as the Jets were able to with Brian Little and Blake Wheeler. The Capitals have been exceptional when the third and fourth line score.

Tom Wilson has gained a lot of recognition lately for his hits against opposing forwards. While the NHL officiating world is still figuring out what kind of player Wilson is, his value to the Washington Capitals right now is becoming invaluable. Sure. He probably won’t score twenty goals on the season. However, he’s exactly the type of forward you want against the Rangers.

Regarding the hit against Calgary forward Curtis Lazar which garnered so much attention (eventually rescinding the match penalty), Tom pulled back the curtain for Capitals fans. 

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"“No team likes to see their captain get hit. That’s part of our game plan. We go in there and finish checks on defensemen and make it hard on them,” said Wilson, via Monumental Network. “Hockey is not an easy game. And they’re going to get frustrated when our team comes in – the red-hot Caps – and they’re playing fast and they’re finishing checks. That’s what we’re trying to do, frustrate them. And I had their whole bench yelling at me at one point tonight, so it doesn’t surprise me that all hell breaks loose in the corner there…If Karlsson and Turris and their bench are yelling at me that’s just another positive. If I’m playing within the rules and I have their bench going bananas, their coaching staff, that’s another plus. That’s all the better.”"

If we’re focusing on getting other skilled teams off from their game and on to ours, then having Tom Wilson work around the Rangers’ end for a few loose pucks may be just what the doctor ordered. Eventually, I think the goals will come for Tom, but until then (and in a contract year for Wilson to prove his worth to the team) Wilson is a perfect distraction.

The Washington Capitals are likely brimming with confidence after asserting their breed of dominance over strong opposition in Tampa Bay, Ottawa and Pittsburgh. While each of those contests showed a different strength in the team (or many), none have come against the team that bounced them out of the playoffs last season.

A strong win against the New York Rangers could help the Washington Capitals plant their flag in the NHL elite as the team to beat going forward. While we still have a long way to go before thinking about the post-season, we’re a lot closer than we were in July – where most of us were speculating just how good the Capitals might be.

Well, it turns out that they’re one of the best. Now, I’d like to beat the Rangers at home and prove to both franchises that the long trail of history between their previous encounters is ancient history. I imagine many of the voices in the Washington locker room are looking to exact the same sentiment. I am seriously pumped up for Caps-Rangers hockey.

Next: GAME PREVIEW: Capitals Vs. Rangers

Puck drop is at 7:00 EST in Madison Square Garden.